Roundup: Police reform, COVID-19, youth jobs, housing, park and more

Published on June 17, 2020

City Commission Roundup image via remote cameras

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids City Commission held its bimonthly meetings online Tuesday and heard presentations on police reform, COVID-19 response and recovery, youth employment and new hyper-local purchasing guidelines. It also recognized Juneteenth and took action on housing affordability, parking and a skate and bike park, among other topics. Here’s a recap:

Police reform

City Manager Mark Washington, Police Chief Eric Payne and Oversight and Public Accountability Director Brandon Davis further outlined police reform initiatives announced last week. The initiatives detail a renewed commitment to accountability, reform and equitable change and incorporate the six pillars of 21st Century Policing:

  • Building trust and legitimacy
  • Policy and oversight
  • Technology and social media
  • Community policing and crime reduction
  • Training and education
  • Officer wellness and safety

The following are immediate action items – within 60 days – and the sources of the recommended changes:

  • Improve the use of force policy by explicitly banning chokeholds 8 Can’t Wait, community and City
  • Improve the policy requiring officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance and otherwise eliminating the need to use force 8 Can’t Wait, community and City
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations whenever possible before using deadly force 8 Can’t Wait, community and City
  • Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives, including non-force and less-lethal force options, before resorting to deadly force 8 Can’t Wait, community and City
  • Improve policy by requiring officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor 8 Can’t Wait, community and City
  • Update the policy on banning officers from shooting at moving vehicles (The Grand Rapids Police Department previously banned this practice) 8 Can’t Wait, community and City
  • Make sure all uniformed officers have their name on all uniforms while in public, including during events involving civil unrest Community
  • Ensure the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability reviews and releases a comprehensive report regarding the status of all prior community-police relations studies, recommendations and commitments. This report will be released by July 7. – City
  • Continue to make structural changes to the police department to address recommendations made in the deployment study2017 traffic stop study and 21st Century Policing report. More civilian employees are needed in police public information and senior administrative roles – Community
  • Identify funding to expand the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability – Community
  • Establish a Community Police Advisory Council that provides ongoing support and advice to the police chief on plans, strategies and policies – City
  • Increase and enhance training related to equity, justice, implicit bias and other related topics for all City staff, including police – City
  • Increase summer job opportunities for youth – City
  • Collaborate with the community to support programming that provides information, awareness and resources to be an ally to address systemic and institutional racism – City
  • Improve resident engagement by creating more opportunities for underrepresented groups to promote safety and accountability and prevent crime – City
  • Host an event led by subject matter experts regarding processing and healing from trauma and vicarious trauma related to racism and use of force – City
  • Create pathways for ongoing input and support from the community for the plan, strategies and tactics of the police department – Community
  • Continue to complete the Office of Oversight and Accountability’s strategic plan and implement additional strategies to increase restorative justice programming, elevating community voice and public safety engagement – City
  • Increase efforts in recruiting more diverse candidates for the police department – City

Other suggested police reform initiatives that require additional considerations are:

  • Open public meetings for collective bargaining – Community. The City and all labor unions are required to meet on mandatory subjects of collective bargaining, and holding public negotiations cannot be done without the consent of both parties. Contracts are in place until June 30, 2022. The City’s Law Department is reviewing this recommendation.  Changes to negotiation procedures cannot be unilaterally determined by management or the elected body.
  • Subpoena power for the Civilian Appeal Board  – Community. The City Attorney’s Office will provide a legal opinion on this within the next 30 days.
  • Settlement with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on its ongoing investigation into the patterns and practices of the police department – Community. The city attorney continues to review this and will provide an update to the City Commission at a future date.
  • Redirect funding from police toward economic development, housing and other community programs – Community

City staff outlined planned adjustments and budget amendments:

  • Additional staffing in the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability to assist with investigations, policy, community engagement, programing and restorative justice needs
  • Additional non-sworn staffing to assist with communications and senior executive leadership in the police department

City staff also outlined the fulfilled public safety commitments. These include:

Read the full presentation HERE.

COVID-19 update

Allison Farole, the City’s emergency manager, provided an update on COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. This includes the Kent County Health Department’s COVID-19 testing walk-up sites:

  • Potter’s House Christian School, 810 Van Raalte Drive SW – Open 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday and Thursday until Aug. 1
  • Baxter Community Health Center, 958 Baxter St. SE – Open 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday until Sept. 1
  • Kent County Health Department main clinic, 700 Fuller Ave. NE – Open 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Wednesday until Sept. 1
  • Kent County Health Department south clinic, 4700 Kalamazoo Ave. SE – Open 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Wednesday until Sept. 1 

The free testing is available to individuals older than 6 months who:

  • Live in a community impacted by COVID-19
  • Have a known exposure to a person with confirmed COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19
  • Work in a job that puts them at high risk for exposure – jail, homeless shelters, nursing homes or assisted living facilities, food processing facilities or any business that limits the ability to practice physical distancing – or has repeated close contact with the public

Register for the testing HERE or call 616.632.7200. No insurance or identification is needed. However, individuals who have health insurance are asked to bring their insurance cards. Individuals must wear a mask when arriving at a testing location. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Farole also told the commission that phase 1 of the City’s re-entry plan was going well with 64% of employees back in their assigned facilities and that phase 2 would launch in July.

City staff continue to work with local businesses and bars as they reopen their dine-in service following the lifting of the governor’s executive order. The City’s social zone permit program helps to increase businesses’ outdoor dining and socialization space. The City has received a total of nearly 30 applications for public and private property, and more are expected. City staff are reviewing the public property applications this week and have approved 10 private property applications. Safe physical distancing requirement have proven challenging for some applicants.

The commission also heard an update on the City’s economic recovery relief funding, which is estimated at $16,868,156. This includes:

  • Emergency Solutions Grant funding for homelessness support, prevention and rapid rehousing – $3,160,241
  • Community Development Block Grant funding to address the needs of vulnerable populations and for neighborhood reactivation – $2,219,476
  • Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding for additional communications support in the police department and reimbursement for police overtime and other personnel expenses –  $350,308
  • County allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding – $11,138,131
  • State allocation of CARES funding – TBD

Youth employment

City staff – in partnership with dozens of local businesses and organizations – announced a youth employment program aimed at providing jobs for 1,000 young people. The initiative – GRow1000: Employing 1000 GR youth for a brighter tomorrow – is designed for Grand Rapids residents ages 15 to 21. The city is home to more than 9,000 residents in this age group.

GRow1000 is a collaborative effort between the City of Grand Rapids and local businesses and organizations. Participating businesses and organizations, which includes the City, will offer young people 120-hour work experiences over six weeks starting July 13. Youth participants will earn $10 an hour for 20 hours each week. They will have the opportunity to earn up to $1,500 during the program, which goes through Aug. 21.

To participate, individuals must meet the following basic requirements:

  • Be between 15 and 21 years old as of July 22
  • Live in the city of Grand Rapids
  • Be eligible to work in the U.S.

The City will prioritize youth applicants from the 49503, 49507, 49508 and 49509 ZIP codes. These areas have been most heavily impacted by disproportionate outcomes, including COVID-19. Youth may apply through June 29 HERE.

The City is serving as the employer of record and interested businesses and organizations are encouraged to participate in one of two ways:

  • Sponsor youth at $1,500 each to be placed in various businesses and organizations throughout the city
  • Provide youth with employment opportunities at their respective business or organization and pay their stipend to the City for the work. Employment may continue upon completion of the program based on mutual agreement.

Read more HERE.

Purchasing guidelines

City staff announced new purchasing guidelines aimed at enhancing economic recovery efforts of the local business community amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes include:

  • Companies located in the below areas are eligible for various discounts on all bids more than $10,000. The maximum discount was 2% for the city of Grand Rapids under the previous guidelines.
  • City of Grand Rapids – 5%
  • Kent County – 3%
  • State of Michigan – 2%
  • The bid discount for micro-local business enterprises is now 9% – up from 3% under the previous guidelines.
  • Companies located in the general target area or neighborhoods of focus – 17 Census tracts that have concentrated poverty and unemployment – are now eligible for a 7% bid discount. Under the previous guidelines, the discount was tiered based on the bid amount.
  • Utilizing the above bid discounts, businesses may receive a maximum discount of 9% – up from 5% under the previous guidelines.

Read more HERE.


Mayor Rosalynn Bliss read a proclamation recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth in Grand Rapids. Juneteenth – also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day – is a U.S. holiday that memorializes June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger read orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation previously freed most slaves nearly two and a half years earlier and the Civil War had ended with the defeat of the Confederate states, Texas was the most "remote" of the slave states with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation was slow and inconsistent.

“As we work together as a community toward equity in housing, education, health care, policing and the criminal justice system, let us honor all those who have lived and died in pursuit of racial justice,” Bliss said. “I hereby proclaim and recognize June 19, 2020, as Juneteenth in Grand Rapids and I urge all residents to become more aware of the importance of this celebration in American history and to continue to promote diversity, racial justice, equity and inclusion in our city.

For a list of local Juneteenth events, CLICK HERE. 


The commission approved a $75,000 contract with Housing Next for housing practice leader services. The funding was included in the fiscal year 2021 plan approved May 22. Housing Next will work with City staff on the following:

  • Conduct strategic outreach to owners of existing affordable housing and work to ensure that all opportunities to preserve affordability through City and State of Michigan programs are available and known to the property owner. This includes pursuing a defined goal of affordable units to be preserved in fiscal year 2021.
  • Support City staff throughout the upcoming Master Plan update process with data, best practice options and evaluation of financial implications of future land-use and zoning decisions.
  • Support the re-engagement of the Grand Rapids Community Affordable Housing Fund and targeted financial supports for preserving existing affordable housing and creating more housing across the city. Plus, work with the fund board and City staff to develop strategic priorities for growing the fund and initial programmatic supports.
  • Work to proactively catalyze new development across all neighborhoods of the city that will add needed housing at the appropriate price points. Plus, partner with City staff to coordinate development priorities with parks, mobility, planning, community development and economic development incentive support.
  • Utilize the data obtained from the 2020 housing needs assessment to share information and collaborate with all relevant City departments, the Housing Commission, local nonprofit and for-profit developers, neighborhood organizations, housing support resources and regional partners across Kent County.

The City has contracted with Housing Next since last summer. The work has included:

  • Review of development support policies at the local, state and federal levels and creation of recommendations for improvement
  • Completion of a publicly owned properties inventory in the city of Grand Rapids
  • Development of equitable housing strategies
  • Completion of a best practice report on community housing funds
  • Creation of recommendations for the formation of the Community Affordable Housing Fund
  • Completion of an audit of zoning rules to determine if amendments would help create housing supply
  • Completion of a third-party housing needs assessment

Read more HERE.

Skate and bike park

The City Commission approved an agreement with AGA Nation for a temporary skate and bike park at Monroe North Park, 555 Monroe Ave. NW, for $300,000. Roughly one-quarter of the 3-acre site will be developed into the temporary skate and bike park, and the City is working on additional activation options for the remaining available space.

A downtown skate park was identified as a priority in the Parks and Recreation Strategic Master Plan, GR Forward and River for All plan. Most of the funding for the park was provided through a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.

The City acquired the 3-acre property in 2018 for park purposes. In the future, it will be used for river restoration project construction staging and storage. Read more HERE.

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