Grand Rapids city officials address residents’ questions during ‘talk back’ sessions

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Monday, for the first time after five "GR Talks Back" community listening and feedback sessions, Grand Rapids officials say responding to their residents and taking action is a "top priority."

City Manager Greg Sundstrom and Second Ward City Commissioner Joe Jones presented Grand Rapids residents' questions, concerns and feedback given during five community listening sessions between June 12 to 20.

During these meetings officials updated residents on the Lamberth Traffic Stop Study, the city's 12-point Plan and the community-led Safe Alliances for Everyone (SAFE). Then officials listened to residents respond to six themes: communication and community engagement; police officer hiring; police officer training; Arrest Disparity Study; polices and procedures review; and body cameras.

Read city's full Executive Summary for Community Talk Back Sessions here.

Overall, a goal is improving community-police relations and addressing racial inequalities by putting in place community-drive solutions citywide.

“I have very strong feelings around the theory of indigenous wisdom," said Jones. "I do believe that the answer lies within in the communities that reside in these neighborhoods.”

“We don’t want people to be misinformed, we want to really try to create this openness to where the community feels as if they can speak their piece, they can have their opinion heard, and that most importantly their opinion matters.”

Jones says this is the start of a new process: Grand Rapids city officials will commit to listening more to their community. Among the residents' feedback were also some misunderstandings of issues and policies that Jones says the city must better educate the public on, for instance how Grand Rapids police officers actually use body cameras.

Mid-presentation Monday, Sundstrom said, “I think it’s fair to say at the highest level, this report was about communications, about the city needs to do a better job of communicating. I think one of the things that we heard over and over again is, ‘I want to be involved, but I need to know how and when.’”

While the city's executive summary states residents say they're skeptical of whether city officials would take action based on their feedback, officials, with the police chief and mayor present, said next steps are a top priority.

“I can tell you that myself, my colleagues, the mayor in particular, city manager, we are operating with a tremendous sense of urgency because this is not something we can allow to fester," said Jones, "We have to get right at it and be very proactive in our efforts and in our approach. So we’re going to do that."

By Aug. 20 city officials say they will post their responses online to residents' questions and concerns raised last month. Meanwhile, the city is planning to hold further listening sessions with communities of color because officials say attendance at the five meetings was not representative of Grand Rapids' racial demographics.

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4 comments

  • Old Bob

    It’s time to stop wasting money on this foolishness. Our city leaders need to get back to doing the job they were instated to do. It’s time to accept the fact that some people will never be happy and move on.

  • steve

    Blame the cops. Blame the cops. Blame the cops. The blame is always at the cops’ feet. Bull. Many of the people who keep screaming about disparity and bias by the police are the same people who can sit on a porch that’s targeted by a drive-by shooter but can’t describe the vehicle. How about a crowd of people in which someone gets shot but nobody saw anything, that is if the crowd didn’t disappear too. Look, the cops’ job is a difficult one at best, and next to impossible in some situations. There are a lot of people whose well being is determined by a few. If everybody who truly cares about the existence of others, regardless of race, would pull together, the city and its residents would be much better off

  • steve

    Typical Grand Rapids’ sense of urgency. It’s going to take another four weeks to publish the findings of meetings that were held five weeks ago. Also, what did the officials mean when they say the attendance at the meetings didn’t represent the demographics of the city. I thought that the five meetings were held at locations convenient to as many residents as possible. All residents were invited.

    • Georgia

      Steve… (in my opinion)You are correct in all statements.With that being said I believe that if they were to move forward now as is ,there would be those that would complain they were not represented in the meetings.However i agree that they should provide SOME findings from those meetings while making plans for future meetings(Spanish, mexican,muslim,other immigrants and any others not considered “white” -caucasion) Sadly i only just now heard of this so i cannot say what the turnout looked like per ratio.It’s not like they couldn’t make room for adjustments in the findings.I am curious as to how they plan on dragging in the paticular participants they are looking for.Perhaps hitting up specified churches this time(not sure how it was done the first time as not everyone gets a newspaper or have computer access) I have been without a tv for almost 6mo and am using my computer as one.I did not see this until after the fact or would have been there.It is not only Washington government that is slow to react and change but we have the ability to make changes by voting to make our voices heard.Local government should be better and faster at their jobs but WE NEED to make them that way.