Surveys in, GRPD chief search moves forward

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — What kind of person do you want to see leading the Grand Rapids Police Department?

About 800 people including residents, police officers and others who have an interest in who runs GRPD answered that question online, on paper and at a public forums.

“There was a great deal of consistency of thought of what we need in a police chief,” Grand Rapid City Manager Greg Sundstrom told 24 Hour News 8 as he discussed some of the survey results.

Sundstrom will soon post a job description that will be used to fill the seat of Chief Kevin Belk, who has already officially retired but is staying with the department in an interim capacity as the city seeks his replacement.

It’s one of the most high-profile jobs in the city.

“It’s also probably the No. 1 thing I have to do that would cause the city manager to get fired. So I want to do it with great care,” Sundstrom said.

That’s where the surveys come in. Sundstrom is creating a community-driven profile for chief candidates based on suggestions  made through the surveys and at the public forums.

“People feel the same thing about a police chief no matter if you live — in the north end or the south end or the west side,” Sundstrom said.

Sundstrom found residents want someone with integrity, someone who is accessible and approachable, and someone who supports diversity.

Does that translate into the community demanding that Grand Rapids’ next chief is a person from a minority?

“No, I don’t think it means that at all. In fact, I had a couple of meetings that were almost exclusively attended by people of color and they never suggested that,” Sundstrom said. “Diversity came up several different ways.  One, someone who understands diversity. Someone who would work harder to make Grand Rapids have a diverse department.”

Diversity was what put Mayor George Heartwell and retired  City Manager Kurt Kimball at odds back in 2008, when Kimball appointed Belk, a GRPD veteran, as police chief. Heartwell and some commissioners wanted a minority candidate named chief.

Sundstrom said he also saw a lot of support for a chief who can grow the GRPD’s community policing efforts.

“I knew it would be strong but I didn’t think it would be nearly universal,” Sundstrom said.

The suggestions will be part of the job description Sundstrom will post next week. Applications are due at the end of April.

Sundstrom hopes to choose between three and six finalists in June, followed by more meetings and chances for the public to decide how closely the candidates fit the profiles they wrote, before a final decision is made.

“We’re going to look all over this country and we’re going to find the people that best match this candidate profile,” Sundstrom said.

Sundstrom said he hopes to have a new chief in place by sometime in July.

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