City Commission unanimously approves historic human rights ordinance

Published on August 27, 2019

Members of the City's Community Relations Commission

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The City Commission this evening voted unanimously to approve the revised human rights ordinance. The approval was finalized at today’s 7 p.m. meeting.

The human rights ordinance was originally brought forward by the City’s Community Relations Commission in early April. Over the past four months, City staff made the changes to address City Commission feedback and community comments made at public hearing in late April. The approved ordinance:

  • Adds definitions for bias and retaliation to the list of definitions
  • Adds familial status – family makeup – to the list of protected classes
  • Expands membership of the Community Relations Commission to up to 13 members and provides clarity on the CRC’s role and responsibilities
  • Outlines complaint and referral procedures that the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, in collaboration with the City Attorney’s Office, will follow
  • Defines the referral process in more detail for investigations to be conducted by outside parties for complaints that fall under their jurisdiction, such as MDCR, Fair Housing and GRPD.
  • Adds language to allow the City Attorney’s Office and Office of Diversity and Inclusion to issue citations under the ordinance
  • Refines prohibitions on discrimination and Identified the 4 primary areas of discrimination 
  • Adds reference to the City Code regarding false information to the “Bias Crime Reporting Prohibition” and makes it up to a $500 civil infraction to knowingly or recklessly report an individual, who is an actual or perceived member of a protected class, has committed, may commit or will commit a crime, if such report is based in whole or in part on the individuals' membership in a protected class and without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
  • Adds a retaliation section to protect individuals who bring forward complaints 

While the main purpose of the ordinance was to update and expand definitions of protected classes, the “Bias Crime Reporting” aspect of the ordinance is trendsetting and, therefore, has garnered most of the headlines. In responding to some concerns, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne says that the ordinance should not be a deterrent for people to call the police department when they witness suspected crimes being committed.

“We’ve always encouraged that,” Chief Payne said. “This will hopefully impact those who have hate in their hearts for whatever groups out there that solely call us to intervene in something that’s not criminal in nature."

City Manager Mark Washington concurred stating, “I don’t want the public to be confused. In one sense we want cooperation, as the chief has said, in terms of solving crime and preventing crime but we also just as much as we’re anti-violence, we want to be anti-racism and anti-discrimination. You don’t have to pick one or the other; you can have both."

Before the human rights ordinance goes into effect on December 1, the City will:

  • Establish standard operating procedures for receiving complaints
  • Instruct emergency dispatchers about the new ordinance and the process for filing these complaints
  • Establish partnership agreements with outside agencies to investigate complaints that fall under their jurisdiction.
  • Publish a frequently asked questions document about the new ordinance
  • Place the bias crime reporting form online
  • Undertake a public awareness campaign and communications strategy to inform the community. 

In June 2018, staff from LINC Up – a local community development organization – approached the City’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, City Attorney’s Office and  Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission (CRC) with a request to revise the current ordinance. The ordinance most recently was updated in 2015 to update and incorporate protection for community members based on gender identity.  

A CRC subcommittee reviewed the proposal from LINC UP and identified best practices of other municipalities and MDCR Civil Rights template to create their proposed Human Rights Ordinance.  The multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-generational subcommittee also met with partner investigative agencies, including the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Fair Housing Center of Western Michigan and Disability Advocates of Kent County to outline and identify the current state of investigations in the community. 

“The Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission has a rich history of community engagement and human rights,” said Patti Caudill, manager of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion who serves as staff liaison to the CRC. “This ordinance has been developed with a community focus and it centers the work of the CRC and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion around the needs and concerns of our community.”

The CRC was established in 1953 through ordinance by then-Mayor Paul Goebel. It is the longest-serving civil rights commission in the state.

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