Forum at GRPD after dispute over cuffing girl

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids police chief and a Kent County commissioner who criticized officers for handcuffing a 12-year-old girl have organized an event to teach the community about the police department’s Youth Interaction Policy.

“We get a chance to do what a march is meant to do: open dialogue. This is happening instantly because of the police department,” Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack said Thursday.

The public forum will run from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Grand Rapids Police Department on Monroe Center at Division Avenue.

“We thought the best way to inform the public about why we do the things the way to do, to hear their concerns,” said Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinsky.

GRPD will pass out copies of its Youth Interaction Policy (PDF), which was created earlier this year, and talk about its implementation. The GRPD Training Unit will take questions about how officers are taught to make decisions and training on the Youth Interaction Policy.

Additionally, the Internal Affairs Unit will explain how community members can file complaints.

Rahinsky and Womack disagreed publicly Tuesday about an Oct. 9 incident in which a 12-year-old girl was handcuffed while police responded to a report of a shooting, which ultimately turned out to be bogus.

Officers handcuffed the girl then released her after she told them she was 12 and they searched her for any possible weapons. In all, the girl was in cuffs for less than two minutes.

Womack said it was unnecessary for the girl to be handcuffed at all and that GRPD owed the family an apology. Rahinsky said the officers acted appropriately and that they followed policy. He also rejected Womack’s opinion that officers’ actions were linked to the race of the girl, who is black, and said it was about safety.

“By doing what we did, we ensured a safe outcome for everybody. So to answer the question, yes, I think the youth policy continues to evolve. I think it’s a work in progress. I think the dialogue and empowering officers to use their discretion accordingly and the power to do so is making a difference,” Rahinsky said. 

In a Wednesday evening release, GRPD said Rahinsky and Womack met earlier in the day to talk about the incident and building positive relationships between officers and citizens. The release said they agreed it was important to keep moving forward and make sure community members’ voices are heard.

“I think the Youth Interaction (Policy) is a good step in the right direction, but I think we might have to do a little work with it,” Womack said. 

Womack has also scheduled an “All Kids Matter” march outside the police department starting at 5 p.m. Sunday. In a statement to 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday evening, Womack said the forum “takes the march to the next level” by opening dialogue between demonstrators and GRPD.

Womack said he wants officers to be given more discretion in their interactions with children, members of the public to know how to file complaints, GRPD policies to be posted online, and city officials to “keep a closer eye on community and police relations.”

GRPD fulfilled one of those wishes Thursday, by posting its manual of policy and procedures online for the first time.

“The fact that this community wants to be a party at the table — we want you to hear our concerns — speaks volumes about the trust they have in us,” Rahinsky said. 

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