GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Department hosted an open house Thursday as part of its ongoing effort to improve relations with the community.

The event was held at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary on Grandville Avenue SW.

“We’ve heard that there’s some fear of the police, so we really wanted to hit the Grandville corridor as our first neighborhood to really break down those barriers,” GRPD Sgt. Cathy Williams said.

At the free event, community members petted horses from the Mounted Unit, ate hot dogs from Jonny B’z and sang using the karaoke machine installed in a police cruiser.

The goal of the event was for community members and officers to get to know each other in a casual setting.

“We don’t want them to meet us on a 911 call, or meet us on a traffic stop. We want them to meet us in an environment like this that’s fun and friendly,” Williams said.

GRPD has a number of programs aimed at improving its relationship with the community, including a Citizen Police Academy that gives regular people an idea of what officers do and face in the field. It is also working to amp up community policing.

Additionally, several new policies and procedures have been created in the last year after two of high-profile incidents involving officers and black children and a study that found black drivers were more likely to be pulled over than drivers of other races.

Community member Maria Martinez told 24 Hour News 8 that Hispanic people or people of color often feel police are more rough on them and that many are afraid of the police because they fear deportation.

“We’re going to do what we can, we’re going to try and spread it all over the city. We’d love to be able to combat that narrative,” Williams said.

The open house was funded by the Grand Rapids Police Foundation. GRPD hopes to have more events like this in the future.

“This is our first one and some of the community members here are real hesitant on police, so we’re really encouraged by the amount of participation,” Williams said.