GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids City Commissioners will soon vote on a human rights ordinance that would penalize people who falsely report crimes based on racial profiling.
The proposed human rights ordinance was first presented to the commission on April 9. A public hearing several weeks later, led to the delay of the original May vote date. City staff and partnering groups went back to the drawing board to rework parts of the ordinance based on public comment.
"It's come a long way," Second Ward Commissioner Joe Jones said during a special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 13.
Since its initial introduction, the ordinance has been altered to add clarifications pertaining to the bias crime reporting section, as well as, granting the City Attorney's Office and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion the power to issue citations related to human rights. Those cited for a civil infraction, like bias crime reporting, can face up to a $500 fine.
"This will hopefully impact those that have hate in their hearts for whatever group that's out there," said Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. "That they solely call us to intervene in something that is not criminal in nature."
GRPD already investigates false reports, but this gives the department one more avenue to address the problem. Payne said it's not an everyday problem in Grand Rapids, but it does happen and it puts an unnecessary strain on their resources when it does. But, Payne and City Manager Mark Washington made clear this is not meant to be a deterrent from reporting crimes.
"I don't want the public to be confused. In one sense, we certainly want cooperation, as the chief has said, in terms of solving crime and preventing crime," Washington said. "Just as much as we are anti-violence we want to be anti-racism and anti-discrimination and you don't have to pick one or the other. You can do both, and I think that's where we are."
Second Ward Commissioners Ruth Kelly and Joe Jones along with First Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart all spoke in favor of the ordinance and its potential.
"I am hoping that it will actually serve as a model for other municipalities throughout the country," Jones said.
The ordinance now also calls for the expansions of the Community Relations Committee to 13 members instead of nine to allow for more voices at the table. The city will also have a more clear cut path to referring cases and complaints to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights or the Fair Housing Center.
The reshaping of the city's human rights code has been in the works since 2018, when the idea was first introduced by Lyonel LaGrone, who was previously the policy liaison at LINC Up. The commissioners will vote on the updated ordinance on Aug. 27, and if it passes, it would go into effect on Dec. 1.
City Manager Washington said the commission is also set to vote on the replica gun ordinance at the Aug. 27 meeting, in addition, GRPD is expected to release their foreign national policy at the end of the month.
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