Police-involved shootings: GR police chief and law professor weigh in

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- In the wake of two more police shootings that killed African-American men, the chief of police in Grand Rapids says recruiting new officers is now tougher, and a law professor says new policies could help.

"This is a big conversation that we need people to sort out so we don’t have this happen again," said Tonya Krause-Phelan, a professor at WMU Cooley Law School.

"We can’t be in a position where the police are automatically assuming that every person who’s in lawful possession of a gun is all of a sudden a danger and posing deadly force to the officer," said Krause-Phelan.

In quick succession this week, Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were killed by police officers, with videos of the incidents widely available on the internet.

A peaceful vigil was held Thursday evening at the Sojourner Truth Memorial in Battle Creek in response to the shootings.

Kause-Phelan says new policies could help avoid the seemingly growing number of officer-involved shootings. "We need to look at the big picture, but certainly we can’t rule out the fact that race is a factor," she said, "and men of color seem to be the primary individuals we see harm coming to."

"According to the Washington Post, last year we have 993 police citizen shootings," Krause-Phelan noted. "The numbers are staggering."

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky says his department working towards hiring more women and minorities, but he said recruiting new officers is more difficult in the wake of incidents like this week's shootings.

The incidents, said Rahinsky, do not reflect the daily behavior of police around the country.

"Take the viral images that we've seen just even in the last 48 hours," Chief Rahinsky said. "There's 800,000 police officers in the United States and 18,000 police departments. As horrific as those images are, they don't represent a mere fraction of the hundreds of thousands of interactions that will take place today, that will result in positive outcomes where police officers are there to help."

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  • Jacqueline Fenaroli, California

    Wrong! These incidents are all too common and occur all over the United States. I am a white middle aged professional women, married with children and I was wrongly arrested – case dismissed “in the interest of justice” and I now have a civil rights law suit against the officer and police force in Federal Court – Central District CA Case 5:15-cv-01699. I teach my children “Don’t talk to police!” The supreme court has ruled that the police don’t have a duty to protect the people, traffic officers ticket for petty indiscretions to generate revenue, the police commit legal larceny when shaking down motorists using civil forfeiture laws, and throwing in a beat down during an arrest is standard practice. You, the police, have the reputation you deserve as bullies and trigger happy cowards, and those not in that group, then for Blue on Blue protection and your mislabeled “public safety unions” are corrupt and bankrupting the country.
    A better PR campaign won’t fix this, but ending the War on Drugs – aka police industry gravy train – might by closing the purse that fuels the abuse and growth of the police industry..
    BTW – I didn’t use to think this way and neither did my family or friends. Police created this. We the people need to fix it. End the war on drugs and end the Fed (easy money printing = expanding government).

      • Jacqueline Fenaroli, California

        LOL. When it was just Black males targeted by police and before the internet it was easy for the general public to ignore or justify their abuse because of past criminal records – conveniently largely due to drug possessions – but when people like me turn against police they are in trouble. That is what is happening now. That is what is happening daily because of petty traffic stops. That is what is happening daily because of biased rulings in traffic court. Everyone knows a traffic court judge can rule against a defendant because no one is going to bother to appeal because of the cost and complexity of doing so. When that happens another activist is made. Activists are largely patriotic flag bearers doing their civic duty and only a relatively small number are needed to affect change. We are seeing change happening now all over the country with citizens filming police abuse.

        Easy communication because of the internet is raising awareness of police misconduct and abuse and gives me hope for the future. Unfortunately the gov is moving to suppress internet communications by FCC giving itself regulatory power over the internet in the guise of equality – lets hope that is too little too late and the internet remains free or evolves faster than regulations.