GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - At a Tuesday press conference following the most recent homicide in Grand Rapids, GRPD Chief Kevin Belk stressed more community involvement in trying to stop the recent rash of violence.
There have been nine homicides in the City of Grand Rapids since Dec. 14, 2012. Three were domestic incidents. In the most recent, the Monday death of Anthony Tompkins, police arrested Ali Sharif Gray Tuesday.
The other five -- the shooting deaths of Robyn Lyn Griggs-Johnson, Eve'Vana Galloway, Mahdi Hayes, Jason Cherry and Greg Woods Jr. -- remain unsolved.
Belk said Monday he wasn't prepared to say that the homicides are unrelated, but did stress that the police department does not see the homicides as "a progressive series of events." He said it's more likely the homicides were the result of interpersonal disputes.
"We don't believe that one is retaliation for the other," he said.
Belk said that police are working with the prosecutor and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in some of those crimes, and department officers are all working cases.
"Our community officers are out working diligently. It was a community officer that stopped this individual this morning, and our special response team are out in the areas. Again, our officers are being very proactive, very aggressive," he said.
But Belk asked the community to step forward as well.
"If there are individuals that have information, I cannot stress enough the importance of coming forward," Belk said.
Even if information isn't first-hand, Belk said, police can use it to "guide their investigation."
"I would encourage people to call Silent Observer or the Grand Rapids Police Department with information on this matter or any of the other homicides," he said.
He said police continue to investigate the recent homicides and that they do have leads.
"The Major Case Team is working diligently on all these cases," Belk said.
He said the increase in violence isn't cut-and-dry and doesn't have a simple solution.
"These are very complicated issues," Belk said. "Our community is rich in resources, but at the same time we continue to have the violence that is occurring."
Belk stressed that Grand Rapids is a safe community despite the recent spike in homicides.
"It's not just Grand Rapids," he said. "We've certainly seen this spike across the nation at the same time there has been so much focus on gun crimes and gun control."
He reminded media at the press conference that even considering the spike, homicides, burglaries and assaults in the city have decreased significantly since the 1990s. He cited a variety of programs like after-school programs, alternative schools and community outreach programs as tools that have helped decrease crime.
"What we need really is a community to come together and reject violence," said Belk. "Get involved and say we're not going to tolerate this in our community."
Community radio GR1530 talk show host Robert S. Womack said getting people to come forward is never easy.
"Historically, it's been a community with a code of silence, and now we're paying for that code of silence," Womack said.
And while the police department has reached out to schools and local church leaders, Womack says the only thing that will get the attention of potential perpetrators are arrests and the threat of significant prison time.
"If I'm going to kill somebody, am I really willing to pay the price? Right now, the price for killing somebody in Grand Rapids is absolutely nothing but soft talking," Womack said. "That's what the price of killing somebody in Grand Rapids is right now and we have to change that."
Womack is facilitating a reward for information in Griggs-Johnson's murder.
A community meeting is set for Friday to discuss the crime wave and ways to decrease violence in the city. The meeting is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 8 a.m. at Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, 513 Henry Ave. SE, in Grand Rapids.
Anyone with information on any of the recent Grand Rapids homicides is asked to contact GRPD at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
Watch the full press conference with Chief Belk above.
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