GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After a year of public meetings, community leaders recognize there has been progress in building trust between the Grand Rapids Police Department and city residents, but they say more work needs to be done.
“I would say that they’re making progress, but I still feel that they need to have more transparency,” community activist Sonia Riley told 24 Hour News 8 Friday.
In the last six months, she helped survey roughly 1,500 households about the relationship between GRPD and the people it serves.
“The consensus is that (people) feel that the police aren’t present where they need to be present,” Riley explained. “I believe the community has respect — they just don’t want their children arrested or their sons being in danger by just going to the grocery store or being questioned because they drive a certain vehicle and live in a certain neighborhood.”
The Grand Rapids Association of Pastors has also been involved in getting the pulse of the community and recently took the step of meeting with the union for Grand Rapids officers.
“We all came to the consensus and agreement that we need to build trust between the two parties,” Pastor Jathan K. Austin told 24 Hour News. “I think right now the forefront has to be creating healthy dialogue. We have to create a forum for people to have honest dialogue. Without it, we’re not going to grow.”
As part of that healthy dialogue, Austin said he recognizes the human aspect on both sides.
“This is really saying, how can we grow our community together?” he explained. “Because we also want to see the police be safe. We don’t want them put into a visceral situation that could compromise them as well.”
Austin and Riley said racial bias is an obstacle that still needs to be overcome, but is tough to confront.
“We’re data-driven here in Grand Rapids,” Austin said. “That’s not a real reality. The data’s not going to show all of the racial biases that are happening, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There has to be, again, the human portion of it that has to say, ‘OK, your experience matters and I can’t discount it because there’s no data to prove it.'”
Austin said there will be additional meetings with police representatives in coming months.
Additionally, the next public meeting for the GRPD Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force will be held in June, though a location has not been set yet.