After bruising report on race, what’s next for GRPD?

Study found black drivers twice as likely as others to be pulled over by police

GRPD, Chief David Rahinsky
Police Chief David Rahinsky speaks to citizens at a meeting about a study showing black drivers were more likely two be pulled over in Grand Rapids than non-black drivers. (April 18, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A report showing black drivers are twice as likely to be pulled over in Grand Rapids has city leaders and the police chief looking at what to do next.

The study looked at three years of data provided by the city and found the rates at which blacks and Hispanics are pulled over far by Grand Rapids Police Department officers exceeds that of white drivers.

For many, there’s nothing new about the findings. In 2004, the city commissioned a study that essentially found black drivers were not pulled over at a far greater rate than whites. In the minority community, it was greeted with a communal eye roll. The new study had some changes in data collection and the difference was remarkable.

“It’s really a confirmation to what this community knew for years,” Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack, D-Grand Rapids, said.

He was among about 100 people who attended a community meeting on Tuesday evening at the LINC UP Gallery on Madison Avenue SE to discuss the study.

“I think troubled and disappointed are two of the best words” to describe the findings of the study, Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom said.

>>Online: Full Traffic Stop Data Analysis (pdf)

GRPD Chief David Rahinsky said his department is trying to digest the data that it received only on Tuesday.

“What I can speak to is the character of the officers and I know that they come to work wanting to serve this community, so I know they are willing to have these difficult discussions,” he said.

The firm behind the study, Lamberth Consulting, said Grand Rapids is not the worst city when it comes to these issues — but it is pretty bad.

“It is a serious problem,” said John Lamberth, the founder of Lamberth Consulting.

What comes next could be tricky. The consultant suggested implicit bias testing, which he says is scientifically valid, but the chief is not sure that testing is the way to go.

“In this instance, I would respectfully disagree with Dr. Lamberth,” Rahinsky said.

He said he has read articles that say the testing is not valid and he has taken the test himself and seen different results each time.

“It’s not as easy as one thinks — you find somebody, they fail, you fire them. You can’t do that. It’s illegal,” Sundstrom said.

The city manager says that the city will continue to do whatever it takes to improve the situation and GRPD’s relationship with the community it serves. Officers have already taken implicit bias training.

“We’re going to keep doing the studies, we’re going to keep doing the training, we’re going to continue to push until we can eliminate bias in our policing,” Sundstrom said.

That pledge will be taken seriously by the community.

“They’re out here putting themselves on the front line, so I believe we can have some change,” Womak said.

Shortly after the study was released  Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss sent the following letter to residents:

“I now have read the report in its entirety, and I am deeply disappointed with its findings. They do not reflect the values and priorities of our city. While the report is troubling, it gives us the important data we need to know the scope of the problem so we as a community can fix it. The report also provides a path forward through a series of recommendations.

“I am committed to moving forward immediately on these recommendations. I plan to ask my colleagues on the City Commission to join me Tuesday in supporting funding for an analysis of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s 2016 traffic stop data. I look forward to working with my colleagues, the City Manager, Police Chief, police officers and the community on implementing the other recommendations. I also am committed to our continued focus on improving community and police relations, which requires listening, developing relationships and building trust.

“Racial equity is an urgent issue and a top priority for our city. This report affirms the important work we are doing within city government and in the community to eliminate racial disparities and create better outcomes for everyone. Working together as a community, I believe we can and will create long-term systemic change.”

There will be three more community meetings Wednesday at which people can question consultants and city leaders about the study results and methodology:

4:00 p.m.
Michigan First Credit Union
1815 Breton Road SE

5:30 p.m.
Rockford Construction
601 First St. NW

7:30 p.m.
GRPS University
1400 Fuller Ave. NE