GGRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The racial profiling problems revealed by a study of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety echo those experienced in Grand Rapids about a decade ago, when similar accusations were denied, debated and eventually dealt with.
It was a issue that put members of the minority community at odds with the Grand Rapids Police Department. But it got both sides to talk.
A series of public hearings in 2005 opened up some deep wounds. Members of Grand Rapids' minority community claimed they were being disproportionately harassed by GRPD. Police came up with their own numbers to disprove the allegations. But the controversy continued.
It went beyond traffic stops. Community members complained the city's hindering and opposing ordinance gave police a license to harass minorities.
Armand Robinson was head of Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission (CRC) at the time.
"Each testified how they felt singled out, regardless of how wrong they were," said Robinson, who has since retired from the commission.
In the end, then-GRPD Chief Harry Dolan came to the conclusion that, regardless of whose numbers were believed, perception had become reality. There was a problem.
Out of that admittance came change. The Police Chief's Advisory Committee was formed to talk about issues. Police offered ride-alongs with members of the community. The hindering and opposing ordinance was rewritten, narrowing the reasons police could use it.
And GRPD produced a video for citizens explaining why they stop people, and how to avoid being arrested.
"It was, in effect, a public relations situation," Robinson said.
While no one claims the debate solved the problem, current members of the CRC say the changes have increased transparency within GRPD and opened up better lines of communication. CRC members say that goes a long way in defusing what could be bigger problems when they arise between police and the minority community.
GRPD Chief Kevin Belk did not return calls Wednesday asking for his perspective.
On Saturday, the Michigan State Spartans will be taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes for the Big Ten College Football title. On Friday, fans began gathering in Indianapolis for the big game.
Two Kalamazoo men are in jail after Kalamazoo officers found them with money stolen from Sunny Mart Friday afternoon.
Two people were taken to the hospital after one vehicle crossed the center line, causing a head-on crash in Ada Township Friday night.