$5M over 5 years for GR police-community relations

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Part of the $528 million budget adopted by the Grand Rapids City Commission Tuesday includes $1 million a year for the next five years to help improve relations between Grand Rapids police and the community.

“There are lots of ideas being bantered about by members of the community, not by members of the commission,” said Third Ward Commissioner David Allen.

But is adding officers to the force the answer?

While acknowledging the Grand Rapids Police Department is well understaffed compared to cities of similar size, Allen says he is hearing other ideas from the public on how the $1 million set aside for building better community-police relations should be used.

“Having specialized community police liaisons that are non-uniformed officers to help engage the community. From that, all the way to more youth programming and things like that,” said Allen.

The original idea proposed by First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer during the commission’s June 6 meeting was to set aside $2.6 million combined with grant money to hire more police officers.

The $5 million over five years was a compromise that came after a debate among commissioners over whether more police would help or hinder efforts to improve community relations.

Allen was one of the commissioners posing that question. He says he is inclined to let the public decide how to spend the money.

“If they say yes, that makes sense. We would like to have more officers. This is what we would like them to do, and then we’ll do that.” says Allen. “But if the community says no, absolutely not, we want this, we’re going to listen to what the community says.”

At $528 million, the 2017-2018 budget is $55 million more than last year’s spending plan.

It took some changes to come up with that $1 million for police-community relations building, including the elimination of some proposed new positions at city hall and reducing the money set aside for the city’s rainy day fund from five to four and a half percent of the annual budget over the next five years.

Along with the additional funding to boost police-community relations, the fiscal 2017-2018 budget also provides additional funding for affordable housing efforts.

A number of new positions are being added, including one person to help deal with the back log of dead and dying tree removal, and three news positions to do a better job of getting alleys and cul-de-sacs plowed in the winter.

The community listening sessions continue next week.