GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Chief Eric Winstrom on Tuesday presented his initial review of the Grand Rapids Police Department and policy proposals to city commissioners, specifically noting changes to the use of force policy and talking about what he has heard community members want from their officers.
Winstrom had proposals for policy and procedures, training, deployment of resources and the police department’s role in the community.
“I’m trying to translate what the community thinks and feels into better policing,” he told commissioners.
Policy changes include renaming the “use of force” policy the “de-escalation and use of force” policy and updating its purpose to read: “To set forth Department policy regarding de-escalation, response to resistance, and use of force.” New policy language will require a verbal warning before the use of deadly force, tell officers to use deadly force only when “necessary” and require officers to give people the opportunity to comply.
GRPD is also adding a “sanctity of human life” policy, which Winstrom said is meant to remind officers in print that their top priority should be preserving human life, regardless of someone’s race, sex or gender identity, sexual orientation and other characteristics.
Training on the new policies will start next week. It will also include helping officers understand the “entire history of policing,” including racial factors. It will also cover de-escalation, self-regulation, the neuroscience of stress/fear response and constitutional policing. The Office of Oversight and Public Accountability — GRPD’s watchdog — will provide training to reinforce core policy principles.
The chief said meetings with the public, working with faith-based leaders and speaking with OPA left him with the assessment that the community wants a good police service.
“I’ve heard from the community that they want honest police, they want police that are good at their jobs, that will be heroes when needed, that have compassion, that will listen and will treat everyone equally,” Winstrom said.
Mutual trust, he said he has heard, is key. He said he had heard concerns that the community is “overpoliced but under protected” and that people want officers to be focused on safety and making people feel safe.
With that focus on safety, Winstrom discussed the Data Informed Community Engagement, or DICE, program, which he explained looks at crime patterns in specific parts of the city. Areas of focus are the Heartside and Burton Heights neighborhoods and the area of Martin Luther King Jr. Street SE and Eastern Avenue SE.
Winstrom said to meet its goals, GRPD must have adequate staffing, saying “patrol and investigations remain the backbone” of the department. As of Tuesday, he said there were 31 open jobs. He added he wants to add employees to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests and for victim services, including someone to aid those experiencing domestic violence. He also said he wants to expand “co-response” programs; that is, activating mental health professionals to help people in crisis.
He did have words of praise for his department, specifically noting the commitment of his top brass to their officers and their community and saying the department has a strong training culture that will allow it to move forward effectively. He also pointed to recent instances of his officers arresting people for car theft — including after a cruiser was struck by a stolen car — and the pace of getting illegal guns off the streets.
Going forward, GRPD will work on its strategic plan for 2024 to 2027. Its current strategic plan runs through next year.
Winstrom’s presentation comes after the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed formal discrimination charges against GRPD, including in the 2017 case where officers held an 11-year-old Black girl at gunpoint, which prompted the creation of a new GRPD youth interaction policy.
It also comes as the community continues to come to terms with the death of Patrick Lyoya, who was shot and killed by a GRPD officer on April 4. That officer, Chris Schurr, has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder.
“There’s a lot to be proud of about being a police officer,” Winstrom said. “But there’s a lot that’s very regrettable and frankly evil. And so recognizing that and then judging that as we move forward, 2022, 2023, are we doing better and we were in the past?”
Asked if Lyoya would still be alive if the policies announced Tuesday had been in effect in April, Winstrom replied, “I don’t think it’s helpful look back like that” and that second-guessing was of no use.
“And I should say, too, my policy changes weren’t based on that incident,” he said. “It’s an absolute tragedy, though I will say one of the few positives of it is that it’s caused a lot of people in the community to speak up… There were a lot of uncomfortable conversations but I think they were important for me to hear.”
Winstrom, previously a Chicago police commander, took the helm of GRPD in March, less than a month before Lyoya died.
“I’ve lived in this police department now for four and a half months and many of those four and a half months, most of them now, in near-crisis situation. We’re dealing with tremendous stress, we’re shorthanded. I’ve spent a lot of time at work,” Winstrom said. “I bring an outsider’s perspective but sitting in the inside, I think it gives me a better idea of what’s going to work.”
—News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.