Operation ‘Safe Streets’ comes to GR neighborhood

Grand Rapids police officers getting ready to hit the streets as part of "Operation Safe Streets" on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After more than 60 firearm-related incidents in the span of two months, Grand Rapids police have decided to take a new tactic.

Over the next two days, more than 20 Grand Rapids Police Department officers – many volunteering during their time off — will be spread out on the southeast side in hopes to end a spate of gun violence not seen since the 1990s.

They’re calling it “Operation Safe Streets” and officers will be out on foot, on bikes and in their patrol cars talking to residents. But also making a statement that the violence that has surged in the last two months will not be tolerated.

“They’re going be talking to these citizens, imploring on them for a little bit of help here with the recent shootings,” said Capt. Scott Rifenberg, who was spearheading the effort Friday at the mobile command post in a church parking lot at Eastern Avenue and Thomas Street.

The Grand Rapids Police Department confirms 24 Hour News 8 research that there has been a substantial increase in gun-crime. Police say some of the more recent shootings appear to be related to an incident that happened Oct. 9 during a party at a strip mall on 28th Street. One person was killed there and eight others injured.

Tuesday, Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinsky told 24 Hour News 8 that detectives believe at least two of the shootings since then were connected to that incident. That included the Oct. 20 shooting of a woman along Eastern Avenue south of Wealthy Street outside a memorial for Juwan Boykin, the person killed along 28th Street.

Three men were expected to be arraigned Friday, arrested in connection with the drive-by shooting at a home near the intersection of Woolsey Drive and Oxford Street SW. That house was shot at twice that day, 24 Hour News 8’s skycam captured the arrests of two men on the ramp from northbound US-131 to Pearl Street around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and then a third was captured.

Police say they hope to get information from the residents that can lead to arrests which have been hard to come by, but many of the shootings have no apparent motive.

“Yeah, some of it’s random with kids just playing with illegal guns that they have but a lot of it are targeted individuals where innocent citizens are being struck,” said Riffenberg

In September, there were two homicides and two attempted murders followed by nine attempts and one accomplished shooting death in October.

“It’s not to be targeting large groups and just making mass arrests and see what we get it’s more of a targeted focus,” Rifenberg said.

The sight of the large police present did not go unnoticed. The people who would talk to 24 Hour News 8 were mostly glad to see attention to the shootings, but were worried.

“I’m happy that they’re there, If they’re gonna serve a purpose, if it’s gonna be to get who they need to get, if they’re going to have the right intentions, I guess,” said Arianna Hogan, a southeast side resident.

Many felt the majority of shootings were likely far from random.

“I’m not super concerned about it personally, I mean, I feel like a lot of those probably had something to do with a personal issue between people,” said Jason, a Thomas Street resident.

Police feel that citizens will be grateful.

“There’s a lot of great people that live in this area, I’ve gotten to know quite a few of them, I’ve worked this area for a long time as part of my career and they’re very happy to have us in their neighborhoods and helping them out,” said Rifenberg.

Police will be out starting in the early evening again Saturday and officials say if it is successful, it could be used again here and in other areas where there is a need for targeted enforcement. But it remains to be seen if the over-sized presence leads to big results.