GRPD unions: No policy change needed after teens held at gunpoint

Unions: Social media videos created 'cop hating segment' and 'We say enough'

Grand Rapids, teens stopped
This still taken from Facebook video shows Grand Rapids police hold teen boys at gunpoint. (March 24, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The two unions representing the Grand Rapids Police Department say the agency doesn’t need to change its policy, despite calls by community members to do so after a five black teens were detained at gunpoint following a basketball game.

On March 24, the group of teenagers, ages 12 through 14, left the Salvation Army Kroc Center on South Division Avenue after playing basketball and headed home.

Around that time, the GRPD got a call about a fight involving 100 people who allegedly broke out at the Kroc. Responding officers were told that a teen walking with a group was armed with a gun. An officer determined the teens matched the description and ordered them face-down on the ground.

None of the teens were actually armed.

People wore stickers that read, “#wouldyoupullagunonme?” at the Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinsky speaks at at the April 11, 2017 meeting of the Grand Rapids City Commission.

During a city commission meeting Tuesday night, some community members called for a change in police protocol and policy in response to the incident.

But in a joint statement Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association said there is no need for a policy change.

>>PDF: GRPOA and GRPCOA statement on March 24 incident 

“When we get a 911 call that says there is a group of people acting suspiciously and that there may be weapons involved we respond immediately, prepared to keep innocent citizens from being harmed. Our training kicks in and we follow the law and our experience to face down any possible situation. Sometimes that includes the take down of people, and tragically, it may include drawing and discharging our weapons. That is what police do, at our own risk, so that we can all live in a place that is relatively safe and secure,” the statement read in part.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, some residents said last month’s incident is representative of systemic racism that continues to plague GRPD — a sentiment echoed by LINC Up, which serves Grand Rapids’ urban neighborhoods.

“LINC Up maintains that the current policies and procedures of the police department are the fundamental cause of the incident on March 24; that they highlight a structure that increases mistrust and fear between the community and police officers; that such a structure hurts both the police and the community; and, as such, there need to be changes to that structure. The community’s willingness to articulate how the structure is failing large segments of our community and contributing to the racial disparities in our city does not threaten the safety of police officers; silence on this structure does. To listen to the GRPOA and the GRPCOA determination ‘We say Enough’ and stop focusing on the impacts that are being produced is the most dangerous thing we can do. Enough will be enough when all people are adequately protected,” the organization said in a statement released Thursday.

However, the unions said the issues of racism, equality and equity “go beyond the control of police.”

“We are in the unenviable position of having to encounter people in the worst of situations, which gets attention from the public on various levels… We cannot crawl into the hearts of minds of people. If we could, in an effort to make things equal and safe for everyone, we would make every effort to do so. In reality, that’s not our job,” the unions stated.

The unions said the GRPD will continue to review its policies to ensure they meet legal standards.

The GRPOA and GRPCOA said all police agencies “have come under intense scrutiny” in recent years in light of possible police brutality recorded nationwide and posted to social media.

“Those videos, which typically only capture the last few minutes of an incident between an individual or individuals and police, have been used to create a cop hating segment of the public. The result has been a constant barrage of complaints and demonstrations that question the professionalism, intent and integrity of our police command staff and our line officers. We say enough,” the unions stated.

The groups said the department has already “accepted the public’s request for more racial sensitivity and awareness training as well as other aspects of good community relations practices.” The groups stated the bias training every GRPD officer has undergone has been “eye opening but very helpful.”

GRPD Chief David Rahinsky previously apologized to the teens involved. The unions did not address calls for every officer involved to give an individual, public apology to the boys.

The groups said they will look for ways to expand relationships with city residents “especially (in) areas where people feel disenfranchised and somehow targeted.”

The GRPOA said its effort to communicate with the city’s African-American community “has been slow but progressing.”

LINC Up is urging residents to attend city-organized community open houses for the week of April 17.

“We want people to flood these meetings, ask questions and make sure this does not happen again. Further, residents should call their respective city commissioners and urge them to take a stand and be accountable. It’s our community and we should have a say in how we are being policed,” the organization stated Thursday.