City leaders in Grand Rapids say they’re not yet ready to talk about ways to defund the police department.
Instead, the focus is on a new strategic plan for the department which was presented to commissioners Tuesday.
The plan calls for turning all officers into community-based officers assigned to a neighborhood. The police chief says he’d also like to hire non-officers to respond to calls for mental health or substance abuse issues.
“And this is a plan I just believe will work in Grand Rapids and will make us more effective with what we’re doing,” GRPD Chief Eric Payne told city commissioners. “And my hopes are that other departments will come here and look at what we’re doing here.”
What the plan does not include is a budget.
Over the past several weeks, people in Grand Rapids have flooded commission meetings with comments advocating for cuts to the department. The city’s charter requires that the police department receive at least 32% of the general operating fund budget, but the current budget for the department is well above that amount. If commissioners cut the department’s budget to the minimum amount allowed under the charter, the department would lose $9.4 million this year.
The department’s plan makes no mention of cuts, and Chief Payne told commissioners that implementing the plan could require more personnel, not less.
The department is asking for public input on the plan.
“As you’re engaging the community, they have specifically talked about your budget and staffing of the police department,” commissioner Senita Lenear told Chief Payne. “So to go to them with the plan that we have in front of us today, it doesn’t include either of those two things.”
But city manager Mark Washington, who is the city’s top executive overseeing the police department, said now is not the time to talk budget.
“The budget follows … strategy,” Washington said. “In terms of those big questions about decreasing the cost of the police department, those will not be things that we’ll be able to talk about as matter-of-factly over the next couple of weeks.”
The police department says it will take feedback on the plan through August 25 and submit a final plan before the end of September. The plan says budget discussions could come in November.