GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Attempting to balance calls for reform and funding cuts and the concerns of the police unions, which believe officers are under siege, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Grand Rapids’ police chief.
As he presented his draft strategic plan to the city commission at its Tuesday morning work session, Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Payne started with this bold statement:
“My vision is that, in partnership with our community, we will become the safest mid-sized city with the most trusted police department in the United States,” he said.
He acknowledged the role of police in the development and enforcement of systemic racism. He said old methods of increasing police presence may decrease crime but they also have the unintended consequence of making the community feel harassed.
“I want to say to the community members who have been negatively impacted or treated unfairly by the police — that includes me — I am sorry,” Payne said.
The plan was met with praise from commissioners, even those who had been critical of GRPD in the past.
“I want to thank you, chief, for acknowledging the problematic history of policing, I think that’s really, really important in this moment for us to do and for your emphasis on empathy,” 1st Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart said.
“I want you to know that I am in full support of this draft plan,” Commissioner Joe Jones of the 2nd Ward said.
“Thank you so much for that. I think it’s the beginning stages of healing for our community,” 3rd Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said.
As part of the three-year plan, Payne promised to roll out a system that makes every officer a community policing specialist. That includes beat cops who can build relationships with neighbors instead of simply going from one call to another.
The chief said he wants his officers to embrace a “guardian mentality” when it comes to policing and listen to the community about how it wants to be policed.
“Equity must be woven into the fabric of every part of our organization,” Payne said.
GRPD also plans to use a mental and behavior response team that will decide when someone other than a uniformed officer should respond to things like mental health calls, homeless outreach, parking enforcement and neighborhood issues. The department is also looking at using a drone, which it called an “unmanned aerial system,” to check out situations to determine if an officer is needed.
The department already banned the use of chokeholds, which have caused the deaths of suspects elsewhere in the U.S. and been a key focus of police reform activists. However, GRPD says the hold can still be used in “situations where deadly force would be authorized.”
The plan calls on officers to use words rather than force unless necessary and to stop shooting at a moving vehicle unless the situation is life-threatening.
It also requires officers to intervene when excessive force is being used by a colleague and to report that behavior so internal affairs can investigate.
Payne pointed out that the plans depends on the same or even increases in police funding.
The community had their chance to weigh in on the matter during a virtual meeting Tuesday evening.
Dozens of callers have mixed reactions — few of them commenting of the strategic plan itself.
Instead, citizens expressed differing opinions on why the city should or shouldn’t defund the police.
A few callers criticized Payne’s plan, saying it ignores the community’s calls to defund the police.
Community organizations also weighed in on the conversation.
Jeremy DeRoo, the executive director of community advocacy nonprofit LINC UP, said while the strategic plan is in many ways a step in the right direction, he has his concerns about it as well.
DeRoo specifically expressed concerns of accountability, one of the four core values identified in the plan.
“The document refers to the need to build trust within communities and seems to assume that increased interactions will lead to increased trust, but I think what the community has been saying for a long time is that there has been and continues to be actions that undermine the trust of the community,” DeRoo said. “If there’s not accountability built into the framework and strategy of the police department of how they’ll do a better job holding themselves and their officers accountable to the community, the ability to build trust will be diminished and undermined by that lack of accountability.”
Cle Jackson, president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, told News 8 he had no comment at this time, regarding GRPD’s strategic plan.
Organizers with the DeFund the GRPD Campaign Coalition responded to News 8’s request for comment by saying they will be releasing a statement following Tuesday night’s meeting.
Citizens interested in giving their feedback on the plan can do so online.
GRPD will host a virtual town hall at 6 p.m. Aug. 17. After getting feedback, the plan should be finalized by Sept. 29.