GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Department is getting rid of its standard procedure of taking fingerprints and photos of a person without identification — though it’s not doing away with the practice entirely.
“It’s the next step in what continues to be an evolving discussion involving the relationship the police department has with the community it serves,” GRPD Chief David Rahinsky said.
He announced on Tuesday that GRPD will no longer collect fingerprints as a “matter of routine practice when conducting a field interview of an individual.”
In cases where a person is unable to produce identification and has been issued a citation or where their behavior rises to a level of “highly suspicious,” prints will continue to be taken at officers’ discretion, Rahinsky said.
The change was created in response to the complaints by the community.
“The community felt that we were not being consistent with what was going on in other communities around Grand Rapids, some of the suburban communities. They felt that at sometimes maybe citizens were being unfairly stopped,” said Larry Johnson, who sits on the SAFE Task Force, a group created to improve relations between the police department and community.
“We participated in this community dialog, listened and acknowledged the sensitivity to this procedure. As a responsive law enforcement agency, we recognize the need to adapt and evolve our techniques to reflect best practices,” Rahinsky said.
In February 2015, a lawsuit was filed against the City of Grand Rapids and one of its police captains for taking a photo and thumbprint of a teenager who apparently did nothing wrong. A judge dismissed the case on Nov. 18 saying the teen’s constitutional rights were not violated.
Still, community members said the practice made them feel targeted and uncomfortable.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s best practices,” Rahinsky said. “And as a community and as a department, we are continually striving to improve and I think this is a step in the right direction for both.”
The practice of taking photos and prints was created when crack cocaine use spiked across the country and people were intentionally not carrying ID, but the chief says body cameras have made the practice obsolete.
Under the new procedures, Rahinsky expects the annual number of fingerprints collected could decline from more than 1,000 to a few dozen.
Community leaders who spoke to 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday said they are happy with the change.
“For the chief to be open, for his administrative team to be open to making change really shows that he put some honest efforts to the community that it is a police department that it willing to work for the people and with the people,” Johnson said.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom also expressed his approval of the new protocols.
The fingerprints and photos that have already been taken will not be purged from the department’s databases at this time. What will happen to them in the long term has not yet been determined.