I think this is a calling just like yours is a calling.
This is how Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky responded when asked about connections between his job and a pastor’s job. He continued, “I like to see people join the department who have the same spirit you do, to be of service to others ahead of service to yourself.”
On February 18, two dozen pastors and community leaders gathered at Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church to hear Chief Rahinsky speak with the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors about issues of policing in our city. There was a clear attitude of mutual respect, even during the most pointed and detailed discussions. The purpose of this meeting was for the chief to share his understanding of the challenges and strengths of the police department, for pastors to express their concerns regarding issues of justice in our city, and for all parties to get to know each other.
Rahinsky feels the burden of events that have happened in other cities. Twice, he said, “Ultimately, we’re going to face a crisis, and how we handle that will tell us a lot about how we’re doing.” Both parties want to establish a relationship before the “inevitable” crisis comes.
Policing and service are part of Rahinsky’s family culture: he is the son and father of police officers, and his youngest daughter started boot camp the week following this meeting. Michigan is the fourth state he’s served in, and he sees Grand Rapids as “the perfect size for law enforcement, as far as being able to affect change. You can come up with ideas, implement them, and see change in a relatively short amount of time.”
Before taking questions from the group, he outlined some of the challenges facing the department. He noted that, ten years ago, they had 400 officers; now there are 280, and the city hasn’t gotten any smaller. These 280 officers make 160,000 emergency calls and 190,000 non-emergency calls. He is requesting 10 community policing specialists who will not be “tied to the radio,” so they’ll be able to focus on building and maintaining relationships with the community. In the meeting, he quickly went through how they were doing on the 12 Community and Police Relations Recommendations (most of that discussion will be covered below, but you can follow the link above to access an article on the entire list from the February 2016 issue of We Are GR).
The remainder of the discussion fell into four broad categories: lack of diversity, communication, immigration, and technology.
LACK OF DIVERSITY
Rahinsky noted that it is an issue that the department is overwhelmingly male and white, that it does not look like the community it serves. While the city will address this through Implicit Bias Training, he knows that hiring is the key.
However, the department is hampered by a budgetary challenge: because of funding, they cannot go to job fairs and recruit likely African American, Hispanic, or female candidates from the community, because to do so would be to hire and pay them while sending them to school to become qualified to serve. There was a time when they could do this, but now they can only take applications from people who are already sworn in by the State of Michigan and fully certified to be police officers in the state – people who’ve already done their Associate’s Degree and graduated from the Michigan State Police Training Academy.
Although thirty officers retire every year, which gives them a great chance to change the make-up of the department through new hires, there is a limited pool of applicants who meet those criteria, so Grand Rapids winds up with police officers from less diverse areas of the state. As one pastor pointed out, this can lead to officers who act afraid of the people who need help from them.
There is related issue in the way law enforcement work is portrayed. Rahinsky said, “This job is stereotyped in the media as being action-packed.” He noted that they’re looking more for “relationship builders” than “action-oriented individuals.”
The chief confessed that they hadn’t been “transparent enough” about placing a rifle in every patrol car. There are factors affecting this issue: SWAT availability and active shooters with long guns of their own. He noted that SWAT only works weekday evenings, so in a school shooting situation, they’d have to be called in separately, with a resulting time delay. He said, “There have been 232 active shooter situations involving long guns and putting officers in harm’s way with hand guns is not as effective.”
He did a little communication experiment regarding the issue of drones. He asked the pastors to raise their hand if they were in favor of law enforcement drones; very few hands were raised. Then he asked whether, if a child from their congregation was missing, would they be in favor of sending a drone out to canvass the city faster than humans could, and to access more areas of the city than officers could get to; significantly more hands went up.
Rahinsky wanted to make clear that Grand Rapids police officers do not serve warrants against people because of their immigration status, they do not work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and they do not conduct checks on people’s immigration status.
However, once an undocumented person has been arrested, booked, and is in jail, they are out of Grand Rapids’ custody, and in the custody of Kent County. The Kent County Sheriff decides whether to investigate their immigration status, notify ICE, and pursue federal charges as a result of that investigation. At the present time, the Kent County Sheriff Lawrence A. Stelma chooses to do so.
One of the pastors noted that it is impossible for undocumented workers to get state identification, which means they can’t get driver’s licenses, and can’t get auto insurance or registration for their vehicles. This puts them in great jeopardy during even a routine traffic stop. He asked why an officer couldn’t choose to give someone a ticket for speeding and not arrest them for an expired license, if the license is expired because of immigration issues.
Chief Rahinsky said, “The last thing we want to do is arrest someone trying to make a living,” and for a traffic stop to result in a separated family, but that “the system is broken.” He noted that it’s a matter of officer discretion whether to write a ticket for a lower offense or to arrest a driver for a greater offense. His final word, “We’re trying.”
To address the problem of victims of domestic violence being afraid to report their abuser because of their own immigration status, Rahinsky pointed out that officers are trained to explain that there is a special visa that victims of domestic violence can apply for: a U Visa. Applying for this visa means that neither they nor their immediate family members will be deported if they help the police. Officers carry bilingual pamphlets about this program in their patrol cars.
Twenty body cameras are in use in the department right now, with another 180 coming by the end of the month.
There was a discussion of a program called CeaseFire, but it was a somewhat unclear conversation, so look for a future article talking about it in more detail than we got into during the meeting.
Grand Rapids is 45 square miles, and the department is looking to install this technology in 5 square miles of it – the 5 square miles that accounts for 80% of their shots-fired calls. This technology uses recorders spread throughout the area that are calibrated to respond to the sound of a gun shot, and automatically call it in to the police. This would enable the police to begin their response before people in the neighborhood have called it in; it also addresses the issue of unreported and under-reported crime.
One pastor pointed out after Indianapolis installed ShotSpotter, they found out how under-reported crimes were in their covered neighborhood. Before the system came online, they had 90 complaints of shots fired a month, but the first day it was installed, there were 140 shots fired captured by the system. He concluded that it is disingenuous of the police to say crime is down when they know that so much goes unreported.
Rahinsky’s response to this was to note that homicide is one crime that does not go unreported, and that it is down this year. The department is continuing to look into this technology, particularly into the issue of whether the communities are as pleased as the police with it.
Chief Rahinsky concluded his remarks by asking the pastors to continue inviting not only him, but also any of his officers, to meetings like this and to any other meeting or event: “We want to be known.”
The meeting ended with a time of prayer for the chief, personally and professionally, as well as for justice in our city.
Rev. Kate Kooyman, who helps plan and lead GRAP meetings, was pleased with the event:
I think Chief Rahinsky and the pastors here both have the same goal: a healthy, thriving, equitable, safe, flourishing city. This was a great conversation about the complexities of making that happen. I was really encouraged by the respectful dialogue as well as the heart-felt appreciation and mutual respect that was shown today.
(pages B1 and B3, a special paid advertising supplement to WeAreGR, February 2016)
In just a year’s time, Grand Rapids has taken great strides in transforming the relationship between the Grand Rapids Police Department and the community.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom recently presented a status report to the City of Grand Rapids City Commission on the status of his Community and Police Relations Recommendations (originally presented in January 2015) showing that the majority of items have been implemented or in progress. The 12 far reaching and proactive recommendations were developed through the input of various residents, community groups, the City Commission, Chief of Police David Rahinsky, police department employees and City staff. City Manager Greg Sundstrom’s recommendations contain 12 specific suggestions to enhance professional relationships and build trust between the community and its police force.
A brief status report of each recommendation follows:
Recommendation 1 – Calls for the City to review all police and fire hiring practices to ensure a diverse workforce.
The City Commission believed that this very first recommendation was so important, that it expanded to recommendation to review all City-wide hiring practices. A Human Resources Review Team, comprised of a cross-section of community leaders with expertise in human resources and professional recruiting, submitted a detailed report on ways the City can strengthen its hiring practices. The recommendations will now be enacted by the Human Resources Department. A sub-set of the Human Resources Review Team will also evolve and serve as an accountability study group to ensure that the City proceeds on the recommendations, developed a strategic plan with a timeline and makes progress on implementation.
Recommendation 2 – Strengthens the connection between the community and Police Department by reorganizing the Police Department to create additional opportunities for the Police Chief and service area Police Captains to regularly engage with citizens and schedule regular office hours and community meetings in their service area. The recommendation calls for the City to add additional Community Police Officers to provide expanded days and hours of service in neighborhoods across the City. It also encourages a partnership with the Community Relations Commission to improve communications and promote the transparency of their operations.
Reorganization of the Police Department is completed and has created additional opportunities for the Police Chief and service area Police Captains to regularly engage with citizens and schedule regular office hours and community meetings in their service area. In the present budget two Community Police Officers were added.
Recommendation 3 – Requires that the City’s Human Resources Department and Diversity and Inclusion should work with the Police Department to provide mandatory Cultural Competence Training and mandatory Implicit Bias Training for all police officers.
STATUS: In Progress
The Proposals for Implicit Bias Training have been received and will be reviewed by a Community/Police team to make a final recommendation to the City Manager regarding the proposed trainer. Recommendation is scheduled for February.
Recommendation 4 – Requires the Police Department to distribute and promote its Police Department to distribute and promote its Police Department Strategic Plan, currently being prepared, and develop a plan that provides a framework for implementing recommendations from the manager’s 12 recommendations to strengthen community and police relations.
The Department undertook an organizational review to identify its strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for improvement. This internal departmental plan has been completed and disseminated to City leadership and police department personnel.
Recommendation 5 – Calls for the City to commence the phased implementation of body cameras for Police Officers.
The first Body Worn Cameras were deployed by the Grand Rapids Police Department in December. The remaining cameras will arrive in February and distributed to all sworn-personnel for use.
Recommendation 6 – Requires that the department develop protocols for the use of body cameras. The policy includes: data retention schedules, protections for citizens’ privacy, and access to the data.
Chief Rahinsky has publicly detailed administrative protocols for the use of body cameras. The policy includes data retentions schedules, protections for citizens’ privacy, and access to the data. City of Grand Rapids Administrative Policy 15-01 was signed by the City Manager on March 10.
Recommendation 7 – Requires that the City retain a consultant to review disparities in Grand Rapids Police Department arrest rates.
STATUS: In Progress
The City has committed to hiring a consultant that will conduct an independent study of the disparity of arrests of minority citizens in the City of Grand Rapids. A project team is assembled and is beginning the Request for Proposal process. The Study shall include a qualitative analysis of citizen and police officer interactions, to better understand if there is a disparity in treatment.
Recommendation 8 – Requires that the City retain a consultant to conduct a Race-Based Review of Traffic Stops by the Grand Rapids Police Department.
STATUS: In Progress
The City has committed to hiring a consultant to follow-up on the racial profiling stop study that was conducted in 2004. Discussion has taken place with the consultant who conducted the original study. The GRPD is presently reviewing data from the original 2004 study to determine an appropriate update method.
Recommendation 9 – To ensure that the entire Grand Rapids municipal operation is following approved procedures, Recommendation 9 calls for the City to work with the Community Relations Commission to review the City’s diversity and inclusion policies and practices.
The City’s Community Relations Commission reviewed all 30 of Grand Rapids’ diversity and inclusion policies in August. The City Commission in August voted on a series of revisions to a number of City ordinances, and Administrative and City Commission policies.
Recommendation 10 – Requires that the City develop an Acquisition and Use of Surveillance Equipment Administrative Policy to protect citizen privacy in balance with the increased use of new surveillance technology.
The City has developed an Acquisition and Use of Surveillance Equipment administrative policy to protect citizen privacy in balance with the increased use of new surveillance technology. City of Grand Rapids Administrative Policy 15-03 was signed by the City Manager on March 24.
Recommendation 11 – The City Manager and Police Chief shall develop protocols that would require an outside police agency to investigate any Grand Rapids Police Office involved shooting. An independent investigation, in addition to the work of the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unity and the City’s Labor Relations Office, should provide the Civilian Appeals Board with complete and independent information to permit them to properly review citizen allegations.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom enacted this recommendation by signature on March 23. Administrative Policy 15-02 stipulates that GRPD office involved shootings shall be referred to the Michigan State Police for investigation.
Recommendation 12 – Suggests that the City Commission provide a significant public education campaign to communicate to all citizens about their right to use the Civilian Appeals Board and work to ensure that all citizens are aware of the rights and protections provided by the internal investigative process and the Civilian Appeals Board.
STATUS: Complete and Ongoing
The City’s Fall 2015 edition of We Are GR contained an article promoting Internal Affairs and Civilian Appeals Board, detailing the process to report alleged occurrences of police misconduct. This message has also been and will continue to be promoted via social media.
The Department continues to report the outcomes of all appeals and is distributing brochures to citizens who might have an unfavorable interaction with an officer to communicate their rights and protections.
All 12 recommendations made by the City manager were a pro-active response to community perceptions of the department that were expressed following tragic events that took place throughout the United States. Those national events hit home with some Grand Rapids citizens and prompted conversation regarding strengthening community and police relations here in Grand Rapids and provided another opportunity to enhance departmental operations.
The complete City of Grand Rapids Community and Police Relations Recommendations Report can be found online at: http://grcity.us/Pages/Community-and-police-relations-12-point-recommendations.aspx
On Friday, February 26 over a dozen people from at least four churches and three denominations met at LifeQuest Ministries for an hour of prayer for the people of Flint. Reverend Jerry Bishop opened by calling on God’s people to pray, even though “You don’t get a lot of accolades for turning up for prayer.” Bishop led us into prayer with these words:
You don’t need a seminary degree to help God’s people. You don’t need a congressional appointment. All you have to do is say, ‘God, show me.'
Those are the only objective words I can say about this prayer meeting, because it was not what I expected. The meeting took place in a black church space and was led by an African-American pastor. Based on my experiences of situations like that, I was expecting prayer time to be loud, for people to be talking and crying out.
But we were silent before the Lord. Together. For an hour.
Each person did something different. One man knelt and collapsed over the seat of his chair, his face in his hands. Another man knelt at the front of the sanctuary, often raising his arms. One woman’s lips never stopped moving in prayer. A man lay on the floor between two rows of chairs, flat on his face. Another woman prayed while making motions with her hands. Some heads were bowed; others were lifted up. At one point, Bishop paced back and forth across the front of the room, the squeak of his shoes giving away his speed even if we had our eyes closed. But none of us prayed for attention from each other – just from the Lord.
I kept being brought back to a song that goes,
The presence of the Lord is here.
God’s presence was thick and heavy in that room. It was electric, and it was powerful.
This is the prayer I was left with:
May we be as relentless as Jerry Bishop’s pacing, as persevering at the woman whose lips moved unceasingly, as vulnerable as the man on the floor, as one with the hurting as the man curled over his chair, as bold as those who raised their arms – and like each person who came, may we show up for your beloved children in Flint.
G-RAP brothers and sisters, if any of your churches have events or programs to help Flint, let us know, so we can help get the word out.