GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids on Monday swore in its new police chief, a longtime member of the department and the first African American to be named the city’s top cop.

Chief Eric Payne said he was honored to take on the role and promised to work with the community to lower crime rates.

“My first priority is keeping this city safe, and we will do that in an honorable, equitable way,” the new chief said. “That’s our responsibility, but I need to work with the community, I need to work with people within the department and I’m confident that we can do that. … Without the community’s support, the police department cannot function.”

“Community policing is the model of the Grand Rapids Police Department,” he continued. “I want to make sure officers are out there in the community, that people in the community know them as something other than somebody riding around in a police car responding to calls.”

He said GRPD can do better on that front, saying the only way to build trust is to build relationships.

“I want officers to build those relationships. I’ve done it, I know it can be done,” he said. “…I do believe that will create trust within the community where people will be more receptive to us.”

Payne said that while he’s ready and willing to “bring the hammer down” when necessary, he wants to give at-risk people opportunities to avoid turning to crime. He cited the upcoming launch of a proactive outreach program called “Cure Violence.”

“Locking them up is not the answer to all our problems,” he said.

Moving forward, he said he wants to dig into a 2017 study that found racial disparity in traffic stops and see what the department has done in its aftermath to improve, as well as look at more recent policy and staffing studies to see where strides and changes can be made.

He also vowed to hold his fellow officers and the department accountable. At the same time, he said he would work with the officers’ unions.

Payne has been with the Grand Rapids Police Department for some 32 years, during which time he led the South Service Area, the crisis negotiation team and the detective bureau. Most recently, he served as a deputy chief.

Officials say Payne’s knowledge of GRPD means he can hit the ground running, which will be key as the department deals with strained community relations and a recent uptick in shootings.

At the promotion ceremony at City Hall, Deputy Chief David Kiddle, who has been serving as interim chief, noted Payne’s long history with the department and said that he would maintain and further GRPD’s excellence.

“Although he is a leader that is familiar with our organization and our personnel, he will not be content to simply follow the course that’s been set,” Kiddle said. “I expect him to challenge our organization to soar to new heights in areas like building community trust while also keeping our community one of the safest in the country.”

City Manager Mark Washington said that along with having the support of city leaders and the GRPD rank and file, Payne has the support of the community.

“Your badge and your gun gives you authority, but the community gives you your legitimacy,” Washington said.

GRPD Chief Eric Payne promotion certificate
A certificate of promotion for new Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. (July 22, 2019)

He said he chose to promote Payne because he believes he can bring the community together.

“I look forward to the day where the only person that fears a person in blue is a person who’s about to commit a crime,” Washington continued, adding that he believed Payne could combat distrust and negative perceptions of police.

Payne is a native of Dowagiac in southwest Michigan. He noted during his remarks that Dowagiac was the first city in the state to have a black police chief, George Grady, and that he grew up near the Grady home and knew the family well.

Washington announced earlier this month that Payne would be the new GRPD chief. The former chief, David Rahinsky, announced his retirement late last year.