KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Bryan Litwin says it was not his goal to be chief when he started his career at Kentwood PD over 22 years ago.

But he was inspired by the opportunity to lead the department and make the community a better place.

Litwin says the key to making the community a better place is holding on to the trust of the people who live in Kentwood.

“They have to be able to trust that we’re going to follow through on what we say we’re going to do. That we’re going to hold ourselves accountable. And they need to know me in order to trust me, and it’s the same with our officers here,” said Litwin.

He takes over as chief of the department Friday, after current Chief Richard Roberts retires.

As for holding on to that trust by the community, Litwin says improving communications is a top priority.

“I think we do a great job now. But we can always do better,” said Litwin.

He says community engagement has helped Kentwood succeed in developing better relations between officers and the people they serve. 

When it comes to how the department handles issues of diversity, the community has set the standard.

“Over 80 different countries are represented at Kentwood Public Schools,” said Litwin. “That is a big part of our culture here. When we hired people. When we bring then in, they’re made very aware of that. And I think people … because they want to experience that and work in that environment, they come here.” 

Litwin says community engagement has also helped Kentwood succeed in developing better relations between officers and the people they serve. 

But that community engagement takes staffing, something police department across the country are coming up short on.

Kentwood continues losing officers, mostly to retirement.

“We’re budgeted for 71 sworn officers. I believe after next week we’re down 9 officers,” said Litwin. “We’re down well over 10, pushing 15% of our staff from a sworn standpoint, so that limits  those other engagements, just outside of responding to calls and being reactive. We want to be pro-active.”

Finding someone willing to put on a badge is a hard sell for many these days, brought on by a variety of reasons, including fears brought on by the pandemic and civil unrest over policing policies. 

“We have to engage our community and get people convinced that this is a great profession, if done correctly,” said Litwin.

He says one way to do that is to expose young people to law enforcement careers, with the help of programs like Kentwood PD’s annual youth academy and other interactions.

“With our school resource officers and regular officers on a day-to-day basis. We want families to say yes, this is great. We want our sons or daughters to go into this profession,” said Litwin.  

Litwin joined Kentwood PD in 1999 as a patrol officer.

He served as field training officer, community service officer, special response team member and team commander as he rose through the ranks.

Litwin was promoted to Sergeant in 2012, Captain in 2016 and Deputy Police Chief in 2019.