Community relations focus of chief finalist forum

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids residents had the opportunity Thursday to question the three finalists vying to become the city’s next police chief.

The finalists — Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski, retired Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Larry Scirotto and Grand Rapids Deputy Police Chief Eric Payne — took questions from community members for more than two hours at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School.

They covered about a dozen different topics from hiring more officers to what makes a good cop to recruiting more members of minority communities. The common theme was improving police and community relations, particularly with communities of color.

>>App users: Watch the forum

Each finalist also spoke one-on-one with 24 Hour News 8 after the forum. App users can click here to see those interviews.

Asked about police-community relations, Payne talked about a focus on building relationships and promised to continue to do so regardless of whether he’s promoted to chief.

Scirotto promised commitment to organizational change, saying that all department members from patrol officers to the chief must believe in positive police interactions.

Yankowski said that he’s had success with community policing in Lansing and said that if hired, he would bring some of those strategies to Grand Rapids. He said there must be trust within and outside the department.

>>Online: Biographies of finalists

Before the community forum, six panels comprised of about 60 people total questioned the candidates. People on the panels included local and out-of-state law enforcement, business leaders and representatives from nonprofits.

City Manager Mark Washington will now consider all the feedback before making his final decision by the end of the month.

The new chief will come to a department dealing with a strained relationship with minority communities after several incidents of police drawing guns on or handcuffing black or Latino kids. One officer was recently suspended pending termination for repeatedly punching an adult suspect who is black.

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has decided there is enough evidence to move forward with a formal investigation into whether there is systemic discrimination by GRPD. That investigation will take months and, if it finds there are engrained problems and if those problems aren’t addressed, could lead to sanctions against GRPD.

The city is working to replace former Chief David Rahinsky, who retired. David Kiddle has been serving as interim chief while the search progresses.

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