GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As tension is mounting across the nation over the deaths of three police officers this weekend, law enforcement officials in West Michigan are reacting to the news.
Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed on Saturday in Brooklyn while sitting in their patrol car. The gunman, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, posted on his Instagram page about wanting to kill police officers in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
On Sunday, Tarpon Springs, Fla. Officer Charles Kondek, who worked for the New York City Police Department before moving to Florida, was shot and killed while responding to a loud noise complaint.
“This is probably one of the more difficult times to be a police officer with what’s going on. We are certainly aware of the feelings by many in the nation today who are against law enforcement, who are upset with law enforcement,” Grand Rapids Police Department Capt. Pete McWatters told 24 Hour News 8 Monday.
McWatters said he experienced several emotions after learning about the deaths.
“Number one, sadness; and then when you hear more of the details about how it occurred and why it occurred, just shock and anger,” McWatters said.
Chief Jeff Hadley with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety said his department has also been affected by the deaths.
“That stuff weighs heavily on officers. They’re sitting back and paying attention to all that’s going on in the nation and how it affects them personally, what it means to them in terms of how they interact with the public that they serve, what changes are going to come down the pike relative to the expectations laid upon them as individual officers,” Hadley said.
GRPD and KDPS have had conversations with officers following the killings.
“We’ve briefed our officers on staying vigilant, being aware of your surroundings and realizing that there are people out there who are very unhappy with law enforcement for various reasons,” McWatters said.
“I think we’re all just kind of bracing ourselves at what lays ahead of us as a profession and as a department in the next few months to years and beyond,” Hadley said.
But neither department plans to make any drastic changes to procedures.
“I think the best we can do is just do what we do every day, which is treat people with dignity and respect and do our jobs. It’s a difficult job, as most people know. People often aren’t happy with you, but you can always treat people with dignity and respect. Our officers are well-educated, very professional and that’s going to be our response, to do our jobs like we would any other day,” McWatters told 24 Hour News 8.
“I think first and foremost, we’re about service and the relationship with our community. I think we’ve really turned the corner a little bit on that here in Kalamazoo,” Hadley said. “We still have a long ways to go and a lot of work needs to be done, a lot of conversations need to be had, but by and large, I think we’ve really kind of gotten ahead of the curve.”
GRPD officers are now wearing black mourning bands on their badges to honor the fallen officers in New York City and Florida.
“At the direction of Chief Rahinsky, he issued a directive via email to wear our mourning bands until the funerals for the police officers in New York and the one down in Florida. It acknowledges, even though it’s several states away, a unity with those police departments. It acknowledges their loss and as a law enforcement community, our loss,” McWatters said.
During this difficult time for law enforcement officers, police departments are asking for continued support from citizens.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job and I want to tip my hat to the men and women of public safety,” Hadley said. “Does that mean we are perfect? Absolutely not. Does that mean we won’t make mistakes? Of course it doesn’t. We are humans; we hired humans. We bleed like everyone else. We have families. We cry, we laugh, we love, and so I think some of that gets lost in a lot of these conversations. These officers aren’t robots, so you can’t program them to do exactly what you want them to do in every circumstance on any given day.”