GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Saying none of the three finalists are right for Grand Rapids, the local NAACP is calling on the city to start over in its search for a new police chief.
The city manager says he will be continuing with the process.
Greater Grand Rapids NAACP President Cle Jackson and the organization’s special advisor for public safety Carlton Mayers on Tuesday released a letter outlining the organization’s concerns; namely, a lack of community involvement in selecting the finalists and not enough diversity among them.
Of the three finalists — Battle Creek Police Department Chief Jim Blocker, retired Milwaukee Police Department Inspector Jutiki Jackson and Chicago Police Department Commander Eric Winstrom — two are white and one is Black, and all three are men.
“It is obvious that the screening and selection processes were not successful in establishing a pool of diverse top candidates,” the NAACP’s letter reads in part. “There would have been more diversity if community members were substantively involved in the screening and selection processes.”
“Considering the recent challenges between GRPD and Black and Latino community members … such as the ongoing investigation of GRPD by the Michigan Civil Rights Department for violating the constitutional rights of community members, a police chief with this record will not garner trust and confidence with these community members,” the letter states. “This selection calls the entire screening and selection processes into question, which should have prohibited the consideration of any potential candidate with an employment record that includes an officer-involved death(s) and/or allegations of violating a person’s constitutional rights such as excessive use of force.”
The NAACP noted that the community was involved in helping create the job posting for the new chief but not in choosing the finalists. It said a community forum with the three finalists last week demonstrated that they don’t fit the criteria of the posting.
Specifically, the letter noted that Blocker, of Battle Creek, said he had no knowledge of CURE Violence. The city has already contracted with the organization, which works with community members to prevent violence, and it’s part of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s three-year strategic plan. The NAACP was also alarmed by three recent “critical incidents” in Battle Creek, including two in which officers shot people, in the last 60 days.
“This … calls into question Chief Blocker’s capability as a leader to ensure that officers use de-escalation techniques and other mitigation measures so that lethal force is only used as a necessary and last resort,” the letter says.
Going on to lay out concerns about Commander Winstrom of Chicago, the NAACP opposed his support for technology called ShotSpotter, which is meant to detect the sound of gunshots so police can respond more quickly — though its effectiveness has been questioned.
“This is a red flag for community members since community members and county and city level lawmakers successfully stopped Police Chief (Eric) Payne’s efforts to use federal and local funds to purchase and use ShotSpotter. It is telling that a top candidate would explicitly state support for ShotSpotter even though it has recently been shown to be very unpopular with community members and lawmakers,” the letter reads. “Especially since Chicago’s Inspector General’s Office recently published its report on the ineffectiveness of ShotSpotter in addressing gun violence and solving gun violence crimes. This report, however, did demonstrate that the Chicago Police Department’s use of ShotSpotter does encourage the over policing of specific communities (such as Black and Latino communities).”
The NAACP said the city should choose a new third-party recruiting firm and start the search over, this time with a stronger focus on diversity and community policing. It also said the city should let the public help choose the finalists.
The new chief will take over for GRPD Chief Eric Payne, who is retiring.
City Manager Mark Washington will make the final decision about who gets hired. In a statement Tuesday, he said he will be proceeding with the process.
He said the city conducted an “exhaustive” search and the three final candidates “possess many of qualities the community informed profile highlighted.”
He said the hiring process for the police chief is “one of the most transparent and community engaged” in the city and that Grand Rapids went through an almost identical process when it hired the current chief.
Washington said in the statement he does not agree with NAACP’s conclusion.
“I have a profound respect for the 112-year brand and legacy of the NAACP and its years of successfully advocating for civil rights and equity. I respect its right to be vocal and demanding and would expect no less from an accomplished civil rights organization. While I certainly understand and respect its perspective, I do not agree with its conclusion. While some of the NAACP concerns regarding the finalists seem to be based on familiarity with specific programs and policies in the context of the candidates’ current communities, there are other aspects of their candidacies and capabilities that will be factored into my decision which were not addressed in its letter.
“While I am proceeding with the process that I outlined to the community and candidates, I will make sure that the issues pointed out by the NAACP and other community feedback are vetted with any selected candidate before a final job offer. I will endeavor to continue to work with our partners from the NAACP, just as we worked with it on developing the profile for the police chief position, Youth Interaction Policy, Police Department Strategic Plan Use of Force, Surveillance Policy and Office of Public Accountability workgroup launch.”City Manager Mark Washington
The city is accepting comment from the community on the three candidates until 5 p.m. Wednesday.
— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.