GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Riots, looting and violence. It has happened in some U.S. cities after a community loses trust in the officers who are sworn to protect and serve them.
Nearly every day, officers with the Grand Rapid Police Department are faced with tense situations, whether at a crime scene, a car accident or something else. So now, GRPD officers are learning how to better handle those tense situations and how to better connect with citizens.
GRPD has teamed up with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services for ‘De-Escalation & Psychological First Aid’ training.
“We really needed to give our officers more and better options with respect to de-escalating situations,” GRPD Sgt. John Wittkowski explained. “Any time we can move away from or not use force, we’re going to be in a much better position.”
Wittkowski said the training isn’t designed to address a deficiency — he said his officers do a good job using the tactics and policies they’ve learned. The idea is for them to do an even better job.
All of the nearly 300 GRPD officers will sit in on the sessions. They are learning how to, most of all, better communicate, whether it’s with someone who’s upset, intoxicated, or who may have a mental illness.
“I think it’s important to realize that calm is just as contagious as panic, and the officer’s the leader on the scene,” Bob VandePol, a mental health expert from Pine Rest, said.
Wittkowski said the goal is to ultimately bridge the gap between officers and people in the city. He realizes that there’s work to be done.
“Certain segments of our community just don’t trust the police, and we understand that for varying reasons. If we can build those bridges with healthy communication and listen to people more effectively, hopefully that will open some inroads,” Wittkowski said.
Part of the training also involved how officers should best address victims following a traumatic experience, like a car accident or a violent crime.
The training is all part of GRPD’s efforts to be more transparent and connect with the community. Just last month, Chief David Rahinsky sat in on a forum about policing and community relations. The city manager has also requested implicit bias training for police officers in Grand Rapids.