G-RAP is coming back! On Thursday, July 1 we met in person for lunch at Grace Christian Reformed Church, our first in-person meeting since February, 2020. We are grateful to the scientists and the public health professionals who made the COVID-19 vaccine rollout such a success in Grand Rapids, and enabled this safe re-opening.
This meeting came about after our Executive Team member, Pastor Jack Kooreman, spoke with Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne during a weekend that included a massive outdoor gathering that devolved into over 100 gun shots fired; three people were injured, and at least one shot found its way into an area hotel. After that conversation, Chief.Payne asked to speak with the pastors of G-RAP about the issues the police department is facing, and how they are trying to address violence in the city.
Chief Payne began with an apology for how the GRPD used to do policing. He noted that there used to be a lot of collateral damage in the neighborhoods after a crime, that community members not involved with the crime would get swept up by the heavy post-crime police presence for things like a tail light out. He said, "We don't do that anymore."
Instead, they re-structured their policing model, from the community policing model that was put in place in the 1990s, to neighborhood policing. Using this model, they have taken over 200 illegal guns off the streets this year.
They are working with over 100 fewer officers than the GRPD had in the late 1990s. Then, they were able to have one officer assigned solely to dealing with abandoned cars. Now, there are fewer than 300 sworn officers, 22 working the day shift and 25 working the night shift.
As they did last summer, they have partnered with the Michigan State Police to use their helicopter on targeted weekends. He noted that the use of that helicopter has been controversial, but Chief Payne insisted, "It's great to have an eye in the sky when you're going after guns. I don't want a repeat of last year with 38 homicides."
There is technology the Chief is interested in exploring: "Drones are less intrusive than helicopters, but some are against it." He's also interested in a gunshot alert system called Shot Spotter, but there has not been city support for it.
Payne is looking forward to working with Cure Violence: "I'm an advocate. I want to try it." He's impressed with the success they've had in Chicago and hopes they have similar success here with training neighborhood members in how to interrupt violence, because, as he said, "Law enforcement alone cannot solve this."
Longtime members of G-RAP will remember that we've been hearing about this potential partnership with Cure Violence since our May 2018 meeting: A Bridge Between the Community and the Police: Grand Rapids and the Cure Violence Model. This year, the city started to look for a local organization to lead the initiative. The deadline for that application was last month, so hopefully the matter will come up before the city commission soon. For more information about this group, go here: https://cvg.org/.
He'd hoped that the city youth employment program, Grow 1000, could have served as a violence prevention tool, but only 400 youth signed up for the program this summer.
As always, Chief Payne wants to work with local clergy. Clergy on Patrol is a new program wherein a clergy member commits to 5 hours of riding along with an officer every month. If you are interested in participating as they expand the program, contact us.
In spite of their efforts at prevention, crime is up all over the city. Calls for shootings are up 35% from last year, and stolen vehicles calls are up 40%. There have been several large outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people that police have had to break up multiple times a night, some of which have resulted in shootings and/or vehicle accidents.
Motorcycle riders have become increasingly brazen, gathering in rides of up to 50 bikes on local streets, disrupting traffic, riding on sidewalks, racing, and running red lights. This is a frustrating situation for the department because their policy on high speed pursuit means that they do not pursue for traffic violations. Despite a lot of discussion, they have not figured out a way to address this without also endangering law-abiding drivers.
The Chief scrolled through one night's worth of calls and noted that officers often have 20 calls waiting for them to work through at any given time during a shift, which has meant that response times can be very slow.
Chief Payne reminded the pastors that the city charter may require a minimum of 32% of the general fund to go to policing, but "that fund is smaller than it used to be."
The pastors asked about service calls the police could offload, such as mental health calls. Payne spoke about the pilot program they have with Network 180 to go on those calls together, "but that's a call we should never have to go on. We train our officers in crisis intervention, but we have no training or resources for follow-up. Now the people go to jail or to the hospital. Where's the follow-up?"
Despite the success of their long partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club (83 years) and CLEAR (an organization that provides support for returning citizens), they may have to revisit having officers assigned there so they can have more officers available for patrol. He said, "Patrol and investigation is the core of what we do. But it's crucial to have officers positively involved with kids." He highlighted the work of Officer Derek Learned, who is assigned at the Steil Center Boys and Girls Club. Officer Learned noticed that some teens were having a hard time with employment because of bus routes and schedules; he connected with Century Driving School to get them driver's training and will help them get their driver's license. Chief Payne doesn't like the idea of losing these "feel-good stories," but is prepared to.
As the summer goes on, Chief Payne will continue meeting with community partners. GRPD officers are participating in the On Base program run, now, by the Parks and Recreation Department, teaching kids how to play baseball and taking them to a White Caps game. Payne will request resources from outside law enforcement agencies, which will likely include those helicopters again--"I don't want to, but we needed them last year." He will ask neighbors to hold each other accountable.
There are a number of ways pastors and churches can get involved and work on having a relationship with the GRPD:
We ended the meeting as we always do: in prayer for our speaker and for our city.
While we do not have plans for an August meeting, we will likely be back to monthly in-person meetings this fall. If you are a Grand Rapids pastor interested in issues of justice and unity and you are not on our email newsletter, please let us know. We'd love to add you and keep you informed.