GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time Wednesday, Grand Rapids community members heard how a task force is working to strengthen police relations in the city.
The Grand Rapids Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force formed in May after a vote from city commissioners. Its main focuses are trust and legitimacy of the department — goals that are particularly relevant this year after a study found black drivers were more likely than others to be pulled over and the release of phone call recordings in which officers discussed how to avoid giving a breathalyzer test to an assistant prosecutor who had just crashed his car. The task force also prioritizes maintaining officer safety and wellness.
The task force is made up of two residents from each of the city’s three wards and Grand Rapids Police Department personnel from each rank, including Chief David Rahinsky. A consulting group, 21st Century Policing Solutions, LLC, is overseeing its progress.
Policy changes that have been implemented were announced at Wednesday’s meeting. They include reviewing recruitment efforts to better diversify the force, including unbiased policing in the department’s training curriculum and creating a community engagement unit. That unit is currently being staffed by GRPD personnel. Rahinsky said he hopes the department can eventually invest in more hires who will be focused on building more trust with the community.
“We’re working to build relationships and trust. That’s very labor-intensive,” Chief Rahinsky told 24 Hour News 8. “What I’d like to see is additional officers brought onto the department to help us work more closely with the community to build those relationships.”
Residents had the opportunity to address the task force members, with some sharing their experiences of feeling profiled by GRPD and other saying they appreciated the work being done to improve community relations.
A topic that drew focus for much of the meeting was the Police Civilian Appeal Board, a little-known group of residents who review GRPD’s internal affairs investigations. Residents who commented on the board think it needs work.
“The time I just spent (addressing the task force) is more time than the people filing a complaint get to spend addressing the civilian board. They cannot talk to the board,” resident Pete Walsh pointed out.
Two members of the task force also sit on the civilian board. They said they’re currently reviewing bylaws and will prioritize strengthening the board’s purpose.
For now, the task will continue working on reviewing ways to better police relations in Grand Rapids.
In March, 21st Century Policing Solutions, LLC will unveil its review and recommendations for the department.