GRPD chief candidates at Spanish public forum

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The four finalists to be the next chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department will meet the city’s residents during public meetings this week.

The first forum was held Wednesday. The candidates — Ernest Finley, a deputy chief in Atlanta; Franklin, Tenn. Police Chief David Rahinsky; Port Huron Department of Public Safety Chief Michael Reaves; and East Grand Rapids Public Safety Director Mark Herald –addressed a group at Cesar Chavez Elementary.

A public forum for Spanish-speakers at Cesar Chavez Elementary to meet the candidates to become the next GRPD chief. (June 25, 2014)
(The forum at Cesar Chavez Elementary. June 25, 2014)

The question and answer session was translated into Spanish, the event designed to give Spanish-speaking members of the community the a chance to ask questions of the candidates.

The last census shows Grand Rapids’ Hispanic population is the fastest growing segment in the city. Many Latino residents say their relationship with the police department is good, but could be better.

“Every now and then there are rifts,” Carlos Sanchez, the interim director of the West Michigan Hispanic Center, said. “For example, when things happen on South Division and the focus is on Latinos and African Americans, I think in general it is stable — cold, but stable.”

Attendees Wednesday raised concerns about immigration, gangs, department diversity, profiling and language.

“If it is an emergency, you have to get a translator on the line. You have to be patient and wait. More Spanish-speaking people would be awesome,” neighborhood activist Marina Moreno said.

The candidates and community members said they were encouraged by Wednesday’s turnout. City officials asked those in attendance for firm feedback before they make a decision.

Earlier Wednesday, the candidates took part in invitation-only meetings with neighborhood organizations, community activist and others.

“I’m a straight shooter,” Finley told 24 Hour News 8 during one such meeting. “I come right at you. And I believe in being honest and transparent in all that I do in life. And so I’m one of these individuals  who has passion about people, about getting the job done and also about the city and employees.”

Rahinsky cited his skills in building relationships.

“In my current command, we’ve managed to cut the budget, increase the clearance rate and decrease the crime rate. At the same time. we’ve raised the level of satisfaction with the community. By working hand-in-hand — it’s all about relationships. And I take pride in my ability to build relationships,” the chief from suburban Nashville, Tenn. said.

Reaves said he plans to approach Grand Rapids residents earnestly at the public meetings.

‘You be yourself,” he said. “It’s not a beauty contest. You talk from the heart about what you believe and what you feel and how you police. I’m a representative of the community I serve and I’ll be candid about that. I don’t look at the chief any different an I look at you.”

Herald, the only local candidate, said his 18 years as an officer with GRPD would help him lead the department.

“The four candidates are very good, we all are for the profile. That’s why we’re here. So we just explain what we believe,” he said. “I’m very customer service-oriented, very community-oriented. I believe in prevention, reduction, to lead us to a better, safer community.”

The competition is tough. Each candidate comes highly recommended.

Thursday night, the candidates will meet the public again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum downtown.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom hopes to select a new chief in early July.

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