Grand Rapids residents to police: Engage more with the community

Mar 8, 2018

Some Grand Rapids residents want to see more police engagement in the community. That’s what they told the Grand Rapids Task Force on Policies and Procedures at a public meeting last night.

The task force is using an outside consulting firm to review the department’s policies to reduce implicit racial bias. One of the earliest recommendations made to the task force was to hold public meetings.

Floyd Mathis, a Grand Rapids resident for nearly 70 years, says police should make connections with residents while they’re still young. He suggests having on-duty cops go to school assemblies to talk to kids.

“So give them a chance to have some positive interaction when they’re young so when they grow up, they don’t grow up afraid of the police,” Mathis said.

Dave Rahinsky, chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department, says bettering the department’s relationship with the community is an ongoing process.

“We need to be deliberate, we need to be continual, and the process will be gradual and it’s going to come with challenges, but this community and this department is up for it,” Rahinsky said.

It’s almost been a year since a public report found that black drivers are twice as likely to be pulled over as white drivers in Grand Rapids. Rahinsky is all too aware of this.

“One of the first things we did after that report came out was hire outside consultants to train our officers on inherent bias. We’re still working on it, but we are taking those steps,” he said.

The department is being proactive in avoiding another incident like when an innocent 11-year-old black girl was held at gunpoint before being handcuffed and arrested. But some residents think it could be doing more.

Tavian Moore is one such resident. Moore serves at Youth Council President for the Grand Rapids branch of the NAACP, and he thinks the city should change its language regarding past incidents.

“I think that collectively, as a city, we need to do be more open and honest with saying that our police department has targeted minorities,” Moore said.

Moore says that by the city using the phrase, “We need to review policies and procedures that may feel oppressive to some communities,” it diminishes the oppression people of color in the city have felt at the hands of the police department.