Grand Rapids introduces new police chief

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids has a selected its next police chief: Grand Rapids Police Deputy Chief Eric Payne.

City Manager Mark Washington announced his selection for the top job at the Grand Rapids Police Department Friday.

“As it turned out, our candidate was right under our noses,” Washington said during a news conference introducing the new GRPD chief.

The finalists for the chief position were Payne and retired Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Larry Scirotto after Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski pulled his name from consideration in June.

Washington says even though the monthslong nationwide search for a leader ended at the GRPD, the effort was “absolutely not” a waste of time, and a broad search was important for such a high level position.

“You want to make sure you do it right. That means that this community deserves the best and brightest across the nation,” Washington said.

“You have a lot of people who look good on paper. When it comes to policing, you have to want to be in a certain community, you have to love that community and you have to want to see it improve and I think those are things that came out of the process,” the city manager added.

“Grand Rapids was the place I wanted to come and work and I’ve been here ever since. It’s just a great opportunity for me now,” Payne said.

Born in Dowagiac, Payne has spent most of his life in West Michigan. He attended Grand Valley State University before joining the GRPD.

Payne has been a Grand Rapids officer for 32 years, but he said his tenure won’t be about maintaining the status quo.

“It will not be business moving, as usual moving forward. There will be changes to the Grand Rapids Police Department. We will take the good things that we’re doing, continue to do those, and if we can do those even better, we’re going to do that,” he said.

Payne said his department will examine recent studies, break down those findings and look for recommendations they could roll out.

He also said within the next three weeks, the GRPD plans to unveil a new policy when dealing with foreign nationals, particularly immigrants.

Payne says his top priority will be ensuring the safety of the community and its visitors with a focus on preventing violence and solving crimes.

The new police chief said transparency and community policing are also priorities. During Friday’s news conference, Payne paid tribute to his mentor, former GRPD Deputy Chief James Farris, who he said brought community policing to Grand Rapids.

Payne will take over the top post on July 22, after taking a week off. He will replace David Rahinsky, who retired and relieve GRPD Deputy Chief David Kiddle, who served as the department’s top cop in the interim.

Payne receives a warm response from community leaders

The NAACP said it’s hopeful it can work with Payne to improve relations between police and some of the citizens they serve.

“Quite honestly, it feels like since (former Chief David Rahinsky) left, there’s been a breakdown in communication between the community and leadership at GRPD,” said Cle Jackson, president of NAACP Grand Rapids. “Hopefully, (Chief Payne) will get out in the neighborhoods to hear the concerns of the citizens.”

Pastor and community activist Jerry Bishop has no doubt Payne will do just that.

“He knows the neighborhoods. He has established relationships. There’s going to be very little ramp-up time for him to get involved in a higher level of police work,” Bishop said. “Chief Payne’s a high-character guy. He’s a lovable guy. He’s not combative, but he’s not a pushover. He’s firm and he’s committed to the job.

Longtime Grand Rapids resident Iretha Smith echoed Bishop’s enthusiasm.

“(I’m) glad. I was hoping they would do it internally instead of bringing someone in that really doesn’t know Grand Rapids.”

The Grand Rapids Police Officers Association issued the following statement regarding the new police chief:

“The Grand Rapids Police Officers Association welcomes Eric Payne as our new chief. We have known and worked with Chief Payne for many years and know him to be fair and open. He understands the needs of our department and of our community. We look forward to working with Chief Payne to create better relationships with our community and our City Commission. Our department is poised to continue our status as one of the finest police departments in the country and to expand on that excellence.”

The force’s other union, the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association echoed the sentiment:

“We look forward to continuing the professional relationship we have established with Chief Payne and fully support him in his new position. Our city, community and police department are in good hands with Chief Payne and all the professional men and women of the GRPD. We would also like to thank Interim Chief Kiddle for his leadership of our department during this selection process.”

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