GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — At his swearing-in ceremony Monday, new Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom pledged openness.

“I’ve heard the calls for transparency and accountability,” he told the crowd of well-wishers gathered at City Hall. “And from what I’ve seen so far, GRPD is headed down the right path.”

Some in the community may disagree with that assessment.

Case in point: Dec. 9, 2021. A Grand Rapid police officer responding to reports that a stolen car suspect had been spotted accidentally fired his gun. No one was hurt. Police had the wrong man.

The community wanted answers. Freedom of Information Act requests were filed, including one by News 8. The city approved the request, but initially said staffing shortages would delay the release four to five months. News 8 did get the video about a week later, but with a four-minute gap.

Winstrom said improving the process is on his radar.

“Although I’ve only been here four days, one of the very first things I did was ask do we have the right people in place to make sure that we are getting this information out to the public, whether it’s through FOIA, media requests, or working with Brandon Davis (who heads Grand Rapids’ Office of Oversight and Public Accountability), to make sure that we can get a smoother system in place to make that happen?” he said.


It has been a busy week for Winstrom, who comes to Grand Rapids after about 20 years as a Chicago police officer.

“Everybody here’s been very welcoming in the city and in the neighborhoods. I’ve been able to get out and about. And especially the police department; a lot of support here,” Winstrom said.

While Grand Rapids is a far cry from Chicago, the issues Winstrom faces here are like those faced by police chiefs across the country — especially when it comes to improving relations between police and the community.

“The more people that I can meet, the better, because I have visions for the police department, but I really want to know what the city wants to see,” Winstrom said.

Community policing — like getting officers out of patrol cars to walk a beat and talk with people — is often mentioned as way to improve those relationships. But in the past, there has been a divide between police and City Hall over what community policing should look like: specialized units assigned to a neighborhood with the focus on community outreach or regular patrol officers practicing community policing between calls for service? Winstrom wants to see the department take the broader approach.

“Sometimes instead of sitting at a stop sign or sitting at a red light looking for speeders, your time would be better spent by following up with crime victims or meeting business owners addressing crime problems or just or working on problem solving with the community,” Winstrom said.

Many departments are also working to recruit officers for a force that better reflects the demographics of their communities. Reaching out through social media, job fairs and outlets like the Boys and Girls Club, for homegrown recruits are part of the larger plan. Winstrom says department’s reputation will also play a role.

“Making sure that the Grand Rapids Police Department, and I think it’s already on the right path, is known to be a place that is welcoming of diverse candidates, and then making sure it is a great place to work for everybody,” he described his goal.

He also talked about nontraditional approaches to making the city safer, like Cure Violence, the program that sends community members, including ex-offenders, into the community to defuse potentially violent situations.

Winstrom said he witnessed firsthand the success of Cure Violence in Chicago.

“Any sort of contribution that we can get, we’ll take it. It’s fantastic. And even if it makes a difference in just a couple of people’s lives, that’s a win,” he said.

But when it comes to technology, ShotSpotter is off the table, at least for now. The controversial program alerts police to an area where microphones have picked up the sound of gunfire, has drawn criticism from groups like the NAACP, who say it worsens overpolicing in communities of color.

Winstrom recently met with the local chapter of the NAACP.

“I said, ‘Well, if the concern is that when there’s gunfire in the area and you’re seeing patrol cars in the area and those cars don’t bring comfort to the community, I think there’s a greater, underlying problem there,'” Winstrom said. “So to get to that underlying problem is where we’d have to be before the trust is in place to talk about ShotSpotter.”


He also talked about symbolism. On June 3, 2020, now-retired GRPD Chief Eric Payne and other local law enforcement leaders took a knee in solidarity with local Black Lives Matter and other protestors who took the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Winstrom said while he respects the former chief’s decision, he’s not likely to take a knee today.

“If you asked me that on May 29th or May 30th of 2020, I probably would have said, ‘Absolutely.’ Moving forward, you know, now, today, that’s become a little bit more political with the organization, as well,” he said. “I just want to be judged on my merits.

“I don’t want an imagine of me kneeling and some sort of incident happens that’s controversial, and I’m not going to point back and say, ‘Hey, didn’t you see me knee back there?'” he continued. “I just want to be judged by my actions. And I think that’s far more important than the symbolism.”