Earlier this week, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) released new data that police Chief Harry Dolan says more accurately shows “the realities of the situations confronted by our officers” than data on hindering and opposing arrests presented in the Urban League’s April 2005 report. The Urban League’s report notes that African-American males are arrested most often for the fairly vague charge of “hindering and opposing” and has since called on the GRPD to make changes to the ordinance that outlines the charge. Chief Dolan stated that the “allegations” made against the GRPD were made “without analyzing the data and reviewing the facts” and that “to view this issue only through a racial lens serves to distract people from addressing the root cause of our problems” in the inner city. Dolan also went on to defend the GRPD’s use of hindering and opposing charges (3% of total arrests) as being consistent with the national average of 2.8%.
In the local media’s reporting on the new GRPD report, the media has largely portrayed the report as vindicating the GRPD. The Grand Rapids Press detailed two cases in which people were clearly obstructing police and generally presented Chief Dolan’s report uncritically. The broadcast media, as was the case when the story first gained attention, presented the police department’s view uncritically with WZZM 13 allowing Chief Dolan to say that race plays no role in who is arrested in the city and WOOD TV 8 focusing on how many people arrested for hindering and opposing had been arrested previously for other crimes. Neither WOOD TV 8 or WZZM 13 presented a critical perspective and The Grand Rapids Press only included a brief response from the Urban League’s president Walter Brame who said that all of the studies “show a disproportionate number of arrests in the black community” and that “we need just laws.”
When examining the GRPD’s report, Media Mouse found a number of items worth reporting but that have been largely ignored in coverage of the report in the corporate media. Most importantly, no matter what Chief Dolan says about how race plays no role in hindering and opposing arrests, the statistics contained in the report clearly show that while African-Americans account for 20% of the total population in Grand Rapids, 59% of those arrested for hindering and opposing are African-American compared to Caucasians who make up 67% of the population in Grand Rapids but account for only 33% of the arrests. Similarly, 35% of hindering and opposing charges occur in the GRPD’s south service area that is predominately African-American and is the service area where the majority of hindering and opposing arrests take place. Additionally, 19% of the hindering and opposing charges came from traffic stops that targeted African-Americans 77% of the time and African-American males 55% of the time.
In response to the GRPD report and a previous community forum, City Commission hearing, and the Community Relations Commission’s call for police accountability, the City’s current hindering and opposing ordinance is being rewritten. The new ordinance would allow police to give people an appearance ticket for hindering and opposing instead of arresting them while also allowing non-motorists to verbally identify themselves instead of requiring them to provide IDs which could deescalate many situations. The new ordinance clarifies the original ordinance and requires that people “knowingly and willfully” assault an officer, refuse to obey and order, fail to identify oneself when being ticketed by a law enforcement officer, attempt to escape while lawfully confined, or give false information. However, while the new ordinance is a significant improvement, it does include one questionable provision that would make one eligible for a hindering and opposing charge if they gave false information to any city employee, not just law enforcement officers.
Additionally, the report is interesting not only for what it has to say about the GRPD’s conduct with regard to hindering and opposing, but also its overall behavior. The GRPD report is one-sided and only presents the official police view, thus excluding any discussion of “police brutality” that has been raised frequently by the community during discussions on hindering and opposing arrests. Previous community meetings on hindering and opposing have questioned not only the hindering and opposing arrests but also the excessive use of force that often accompanies them and the circumstances under which they are made. After reading through the 167 incident reports, Media Mouse found several that involved questionable police conduct whereby people were stopped or suspected of crimes based on their race and other “profile” characteristics rather than any evidence of a crime:
37 year-old African-American male: The reporting officer made contact with the black male suspect after observing him walk down the middle of the road where a clear sidewalk was provided and not move for traffic. The officer asked the subject for his identification, but the subject refused using expletives to say that he would not cooperate with the officer’s request. As the subject began to walk away, the officer grabbed his arm. The subject tried to pull away from the officer, so the officer arrested him for hindering and opposing a police officer. While being handcuffed, the suspect continued to try to pull away and an assisting unit had to help handcuff. The suspect was lodged at KCCF for hindering and opposing police and he was cited for walking in the street where sidewalk provided.
53 year-old Caucuasian male: Officers came into contact with the white male suspect on a traffic stop. The officer had initiated the traffic stop for a traffic violation and the suspect (and the driver) immediately got out of the car. He refused to get back in his car stating he had done nothing wrong. The officer gave him the option of sitting in his car or the cruiser, and the suspect stated neither. The suspect was arrested for hindering and opposing police. He was issued a citation and lodged at KCCF for the same.
29 year-old African-American male: Two officers came into contact with subjects while on bike patrol. They observed 3 black male subjects, know to the officers from previous contacts and arrests, sitting on a porch where they do not live. Upon the officers’ approach of the address, two of the subjects ran to the door and began pounding on it. One of the officers was able to grab the back of the shirt of one of the fleeing subjects, but just then the door cracked and the subjects pushed their way in causing minor injury to the officer’s hand. The suspect threw narcotics on the floor and was able to free himself from the officer’s grasp. The suspect jumped back and forth over a couch to avoid being caught by police. He was taken into custody and handcuffed. It turned out the house they entered belonged to a stranger and they were trespassing. The suspect was lodged at KCCF and booked on charges of possession of marijuana, and hindering and opposing police.
21 year-old African American male: The reporting officer came into contact with the black male suspect on a disturbance call. The police had been called back three separate times that evening to handle a large group of disorderly teens walking in the streets and through the neighborhood. This has been an ongoing problem in the neighborhood especially in the summer months. The officer came into contact with 4 teens standing in the roadway. The officer told them to move along. Three of the subjects went to the sidewalk and began to walk away. The suspect stood in the middle of the road looking at his cell phone. He was told again to move out of the road and keep walking. He went to the sidewalk and then stood. When told by the officer to keep moving for a third time, he said “I’m not afraid of you.” The officer then arrested him for hindering and opposing police.
20 year-old black male: The reporting officer came into contact with the black male suspect while checking the area for a car-jacking suspect. The suspect contacted by the officer matched the physical and clothing description he was looking for. The suspect identified himself, but denied any knowledge of the car-jacking. The victime came to the scene but was unable to provide a positive identification. The officer attempted to do a P/P (picture and print) of the suspect because he had no ID, but he refused and began to walk away. The suspect was arrested for hindering and opposing the police investigation and lodged at KCCF for the same. Warrant Denied. The City Attorney determined that once the suspect had been cleared of the underlying crime, they had no obligation to submit to a photo and print.
19 year-old black male: Officers came into contact with the black male suspect on bike patrol. They had observed the suspect riding his bike at night without any lights or reflectors which is a ordinance violation. TAs they passed him in the street, they commanded him to stop. He did not and tried to elude them on bike, then on foot. After a foot pursuit, the suspect ran into a house and locked the door. The owner of the residence was on the porch and did not know the suspect. Officers used the owner’s keys to open the door and located the suspect. He continued to resist by wrestling with the officers for about 15 seconds. He was lodged at KCCF for unlawful entry, failed to stop on police command, and hindering and opposing police.
49 year-old black male: While on motor patrol, the officers observed the black male suspect walking down the sidewalk. They recognized the subjects from previous contacts and ran him through LEIN for warrants. He had a warrant for his arrest and the officers made contact with him. They told the suspect to stop and he continued walking away. The officer grabbed his arm and he tensed up putting his hands in his pockets. He refused to take his hands out of his pockets and tried to pull away. The officers had to manually take his hands from his pockets and put them behind his back. He was arrested and transported to KCCF for the warrant and for hindering and opposing arrest.