GRPD defends staffing before Saturday shootings

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Disagreeing with the stance of the officers’ union, a Grand Rapids police deputy chief said that the department is “adequately staffed” to handle large events and a spike in violence.

Speaking at a Monday afternoon press conference, Deputy Chief Eric Payne said that the Grand Rapids Police Department had enough officers on duty during Saturday night’s annual fireworks show downtown, after which there were two shootings nearby, one of them fatal.

“There were close to 100 officers specifically for this event. We had enough officers on scene,” Payne said. “But when you have 200 to 300 youths that are out there that are not being supervised with the intention of fighting, it creates a problem for the area and the officers.”

He added that GRPD has dedicated overtime assignments for increased patrols due to a recent uptick in shootings — several of which resulted in injuries — and nine homicides this year, a number that already matches last year’s total.

Payne also said that city leaders and community members have supported the department.

Deputy Police Chief Eric Payne addresses this past Saturday's events downtown.

Posted by Grand Rapids Police Department on Monday, July 8, 2019

Payne rebutted a Sunday afternoon Facebook post in which the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association blamed the “recent and continued violence” on “city officials not properly staffing and supporting the police department.”

The union went on to argue that the department is too closely scrutinized, discouraging officers from getting involved before violence escalates to a shooting.

“It is evident that stop the violence rallies have no (e)ffect on criminal activity. It’s time to let GRPD get back to policing,” the post concluded.

It was a reference to a rally hosted by police and community leaders a couple of weeks ago in which they laid out efforts to combat the violence, including upping patrols and urging community members to aid police.

Payne said that the department would keep participating in any efforts it believes can stop violence.

“And getting the community behind us,” he continued. “It’s a little unprecedented to have community members stand with us along with members of city government … saying this is not acceptable.”

GRPD does have fewer officers than it had 20 years ago and has been seeking funding for 10 more for years. It did get the cash to add two officers and a few more civilian employees when the city passed a budget in May.

But, Payne said, “If we would’ve been approved for 10, 20, 50 additional officers in this last budget cycle, that would not have prevented what occurred this past weekend.”

“It’s going to be a long time building up to those numbers and we have to work with the city to get those numbers back to where we feel are better,” he continued.

Community leader and pastor Jerry Bishop also took issue with the union’s claim.

“Your commentary is reckless and baseless,” he replied in part. “Police do NOT change the behavior of people. People change the behavior of people.”

Union leaders were not available for an interview Monday.

The first of Saturday night’s shooting happened just after 10:30 p.m. at the Big Boy restaurant on Pearl Street NW near US-131. Two people, 17- and 19-year-old males whose names haven’t been released, were injured. Payne said they were recovering Monday.

The second shooting, which happened near the intersection of 6th Street NW and Front Street about 10 minutes later, killed 20-year-old Saul Espinoza of Grand Rapids.

An 18-year-old woman was also wounded in the second shooting. Her name was not released Monday.

Payne could not yet provide many details about the investigation, but said Espinoza “wasn’t a random victim.” He said the shootings are not believed to be related.

No suspects have been arrested in the shootings, but Payne said three people ranging in age from 13 to 19 were arrested Saturday night because of fights. He stressed that kids need to be supervised and that parents need to be involved and responsible.

He also reiterated the department’s call for community members to stand up together against the violence.

“Arrests will not solve these problems. It takes a community to solve them,” he said.

Anyone with information about any of the shootings is asked to call GRPD at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.

—24 Hour News 8’s Barton Deiters contributed to this report.

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