How GRPD works to build community relationships

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One year ago, a task force formed to help bridge the disconnect between the Grand Rapids Police Department and those officers protect and serve. Target 8 is examining where progress is being made and the work that still needs to be done.

GRPD Chief David Rahinsky believes the department has made positive progress.

“It’s a balance,” the chief said. “I certainly don’t want the officers to feel they’re being taken for granted and to the credit of this community, officers will routinely tell me, ‘You know, I go to meetings or I’m out having a cup of coffee or I’m having coffee with a group and consistently they’re appreciative of the efforts of the department.'”

In April 2017, a study revealed concerning patterns among traffic stops by GRPD. It found black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be pulled over than white drivers.

The next month, plans were put into motion to form the Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force as a way to strengthen the department’s relationship with the community. Rahisnky believes the public meetings hosted by the task force so far have gone well.

“We haven’t kept to a script, which is good. We’ve let it be kind of organic,” he explained.

The next public meeting will be June 6. Its location has not yet been set. Once it is, details will be available on the task force’s website.

Other changes have come in the form of new policies and training methods for officers focusing on how they interact with residents, some of which were enacted in response to the public outcry over an 11-year-old girl being handcuffed by officers.

But what about veteran officers who don’t think they need new training?

“To their credit, I haven’t identified anyone in this agency who hasn’t been adaptive to changing and modifying their style of policing,” Rahinsky said. “What worked when I started in 1987 is not what works today and the officers who were here recognize that.”

The department has also developed an abbreviated version of its Citizen Police Academy to give community stakeholders an inside look at what they see every day.

“I think people have a misconception about what it is we actually do. So the citizens police academy, the one-dayer, we hope to start doing that every other month to give community leaders and stakeholders an opportunity to see what it actually entails,” Rahinsky said.

He said one fact that sometimes gets lost in the public feedback is that the department’s resources are spread thin.

“Our daytime population now is approaching probably quarter of a million, our nighttime population 200,000, and with a police department of fewer than 300 sworn personnel,” the chief explained. “We’re being asked to do relationship building and that is very time intensive and takes a lot of capacity.”

Officers designated as community policing specialists during the week must balance visiting the residents of their service area with patrolling it full time.

“The officers want to do it. We want to have the ability to get out of the car. We want to have the ability to walk the parks, walk the schools,” Rahinsky said. “It’s tough to do those things when you’re going call to call to call.”

Ultimately, the chief wants to see the department growing at the same rate the city is.

“The city earmarked a million dollars a year for the next five years, so that’ll pay for 10 officers. That’s a start but moving forward, I’d like the police department to grow at the same rate that this community is growing. So with 300 sworn (personnel), if this community grows at 3 percent a year, I’d like us to add 3 percent to the department. I think that’ll keep us ahead of the curve,” he explained.

The 10 new officers will help the department designate additional community policing officers during evening hours and weekends, but Rahinsky said they will also still need to patrol their service areas.

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