GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A series of listening sessions in Grand Rapids proved there’s work to do in generating trust between the community and the Grand Rapids Police Department — and one local urban leader says the way to do that is to keep up the discussion.
“Engagement is ongoing,” Lakiya Jenkins, the operations director for urban outreach nonprofit LINC UP, told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday. “It doesn’t stop. It’s not like we meet, shake hands. It’s getting to know each other, it’s continuously having conversation.
“I think that the city has made a commitment and I think that residents are engaged and they have been showing up,” she continued.
Transparency, more dialogue, accountability for implicit bias and racial profiling, and effective training for officers were some of the community’s key concerns that the city summed up in a 52-page report detailing the five recent #GRTalksBack listening sessions.>>PDF: #GRTalksBack report
The day after the #GRTalksBack report was released and coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of the July 1967 race riot in the city, the Grand Rapids Police Department released its new impartial policing policy focused on accountability and a strong stance against racial profiling and biased policing.>>Online: Impartial policing policy
Jenkins noted police relations with the community, particularly with minorities, have been strained for some time.
“I think that there’s some history there. I think that historically, communities of color have been marginalized and that their voice has not always been uplifted,” she said.
Jenkins said reversing distrust starts with building genuine relationships.
“I think trust is going to have to be established either way it goes,” she said. “I think if it’s a white officer or it’s an officer of color, I think that the relationship has to be built.
“The community is going to see when someone’s genuinely trying to build a relationship with them and they’re going to see when they’re just trying to hold a conversation to meet their community engagement goal for the month,” she added.
A major concern raised in the listening sessions was that community attendance at the meetings didn’t reflect the demographics the police serve and the need for more conversations with minorities.
“I think the dynamics are still sticky. I think that the community desires to broaden their relationship with the police department and the city in general. I think that they sometimes don’t know how and they don’t know how to approach the conversation. They don’t know where to go and don’t know if they will actually be listened to,” Jenkins said.
She described how important it is for community members to feel they connect with officers who understand their mindset.
“Having officers that reflect the demographic of the set community, having officers who have lived in urban communities and that are culturally competent and that know how to interact and communicate with folks of color,” Jenkins said.
But the city’s report also acknowledged officers are overworked and understaffed.
“We need … officers who are able to not have workloads that have them so stressed and so overworked that they can’t make wise decisions,” Jenkins said.
She said there’s some skepticism about whether the policies aimed at change — like the new impartiality policing policy — will translate into action.
“I think that folks realize and the residents realize that they have to be persistent and have to be vigilant,” she said.
The president of the local chapter of the NAACP told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday that the organization would not have a response until it reviews the final report on the listening sessions. The American Civil Liberties Union was also not immediately available Tuesday to comment on the report.