GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The effort to improve relations between Grand Rapids police and community members continues — and the size of the price tag for those efforts is growing.
On Tuesday, city commissioners approved spending some $180,000 to hire a firm run by former Justice Department official Ronald Davis, who previously headed up President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
21st Century Policing Solutions promises to, among other things, help the Grand Rapids Police Department develop best practices when it comes to community involvement and policing. The firm will also assess how GRPD does its job.
“It’s more than just having someone come in a review policies and procedures. This is a key element to improving community and police relations,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said.
The hiring received a lukewarm response from GRPD Chief David Rahinsky. He said his department already has a reputation for being professional, progressive and responsible.
“I think what I heard today from commissioners and the city attorney was that there is a segment of the community who feels there’s value in bringing in someone from outside the department, from outside the community, to validate what we know,” Rahinsky said.
If the response from the chief was lukewarm, the response from the unions representing both officers and command staff at GRPD was boiling hot.
“The steady stream of studies, criticism and direct policy and procedure investigations has had deleterious effect on police officers and command staff,” a joint statement from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and the Grand Rapids Command Officers Association read in part.
“The morale in the police department is extremely low and compounded by the fact that the department is operating with 100 fewer officers than should be on the job. The department is responding to a large amount of violent crime, including attempted murders of our police officers. They’ve been taking more guns off the streets and encountering more violent situations than they’ve experienced since the 1990s at the height of the drug and gang wars,” the three-page statement continued. “All city employees are dedicated to our city, the taxpayers and the work we do. We’d just like to see a little appreciation for that once in a while.”
>>PDF: Unions’ complete statement
The mayor defended the hiring, saying that while problems continue, groups like 21st Century Policing Solutions have had success in improving police-community relations. She said she hopes similar solutions can work in Grand Rapids.
“My hope from is from this, we can really take a look at what are we doing well, what can we build on and maybe what do we need to think about differently,” Bliss said.