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NAACP and Grand Rapids working together to change police surveillance technology rules

The proposed changes would mean that the city and community would play a larger role in what kinds of technology the department buys.

A collaboration between the city of Grand Rapids and Greater Grand Rapids NAACP to hold police accountable is going to bring change to the Grand Rapids Police Department. 

The city's current policy on surveillance technology was adopted back in 2015, and the proposed changes would not only mean that the city and community would play a larger role in what kinds of technology the department buys. It would also mean that everyone can have a say if new technology isn't being used properly.

"We think it's critically important and we're super excited to be at this stage," Greater Grand Rapids NAACP President Cle Jackson says. "I think that's what this policy does by allowing that community voice to be at the front and to be center and to hold folks accountable, quite honestly. I think this is not only a protection for civilians but also for law enforcement as well."

There are multiple revisions to the 2015 policy. When the police department requests new technology, a public hearing would be held with the city commission to evaluate how it could affect privacy and discrimination in the community.

"Let's be honest, we know typically black and brown people and poor and white folks are disproportionately impacted," Jackson says.

These changes follow a decision by the city last year not to buy ShotSpotter, a system that can find out where a gun was fired by using seniors, which the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP worried would lead to over-policing in certain parts of the city based on data in other cities.

"That crime data tends to focus on brown and black communities, but it doesn't focus on the underlying issues that result in that outcome," Carlton T. Mayers, II, Esq. says. "At the end of the day, it ends up that 'Oh most of the violence offenders are in this area, or most of the violent offenses are in this area,' so that's where they target."

The city is no longer considering ShotSpotter, but instead, the next focus is getting more drones for the police department. The department calls UAS technology a force multiplier and a helpful asset during investigations.

Under these policy revisions, the community would be able to file complaints on the misuse or overuse of technology, and an investigative audit would be done. An annual report would be released that shows the impact of surveillance tools based on race, age and gender for each time it's used.

"I think we're going to see more of this across the country," Mayers says. 

Under these policy revisions, the police department would have to file a report with the city four times a year outlining incidents where surveillance technology was used. A city public safety committee would have the power to strip the department of any technology following an audit. 

City Manager Mark Washington is expected to approve the policy revisions next month. 

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