GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky hasn’t kept quiet about his ambitious goals to improve community relations between his officers and the citizens they protect. In fact, it was the basis of the department’s 12-point plan to reform the policing methods they use. But recent events haven’t made it easy.
In March, GRPD made national headlines for mistakenly holding several black youngsters at gunpoint. The officers had been going off a description they say matched that of the group, but as they later admitted, the kids were simply on their way home from a pickup basketball game at the Kroc Center.
Then weeks later, in April, a Lamberth Consulting study on traffic trends in the city (another piece of the 12-point plan) showed minority drivers were twice as likely to get pulled over by police. It was another blow in a stretch of troublesome events for the department.
But Tuesday, the city commission approved $1 million each year, for the next five years to go towards policing and community relations. Rahinsky is hoping at least some of that will go towards new hires, specifically devoted to building relations and trust in different areas of the city.
“We consistently hear from neighbors and residents and business owners, ‘we love our community policing specialists. But they’re not here on the weekends… and their not here in the evenings,’” said Chief Rahinsky. “With another dozen officers we’d be able to replicate that.”
Rahinsky understands there are many out there who will argue that, in the current climate, more officers won’t fix the problem.
“It’s not a quick fix, and I understand people’s criticism that more officers isn’t going to alleviate the problem,” he said. “We’re not looking just strictly at enforcement. We’re looking at relationships - being in the neighborhoods, walking the beat, spending time with people.”
The issue of understaffing is a real one, at least according to the numbers. Currently, GRPD has 292 sworn officers on their force – that’s an average of 1.5 officers to every 1,000 citizens. It’s well below the national average of 335 officers for cities of comparable size, and Grand Rapids is still the fastest growing city in the state.
“It’s going to take additional personnel for us to truly be able to work the model as we envision it,” said Rahinsky. “I don’t want to wait until crime becomes an issue and then we have to hire out of necessity.”
Rahinsky isn’t even seeking the 40 officers it would take to catch up to the national average. He’s just asking for twelve additional officers to the force, all hired to be community policing specialist, a job they have now but one that comes secondary to the 400-plus calls the department gets daily.
“ideally we’d like our community policing specialists to be able to spend time in the neighborhood, addressing underlying issues,” Rahinsky said, “not just running from call to call.”
The city commission will announce its plan for spending the earmarked $1 million at its July 11th meeting.