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GRAND  RAPIDS POLICE CHIEF DAVID  RAHINSKY – Partnering with Community is a Key to Success

BY STEVEN J. GUITAR

On behalf of the men and women of the Grand Rapids Police Department, I want to express our appreciation to the community for its trust in, and willingness to partner with, us at the GRPD. As we’ve worked to strengthen the bond between our agency and the community over the past few years, I continue to be heartened by the community’s dedication and devotion to work alongside us to make this agency one that the entire community can support, trust and be proud of.

Since I moved here in July 2014 from a city half the size of Grand Rapids (Franklin, Tennessee), the one thing that surprised me is also a tribute to this community. I learned that, even though we are a big city with 200,000 people and are Michigan’s second biggest city, Grand Rapids has a small-town feeling. Most of the people know each another. There are family names that you hear that have been around for generations. Yet, although we are not small, Grand Rapids has a small-town sense about it — in a good respect. People look out for one another. They work collaboratively and collectively trying to make the community better.

When I did my due diligence to learn about the Department prior to taking this job, I consistently heard and read good things about Grand Rapids. I spoke to people that I had attended national schools with, people from other states and even from this part of the country. All said that this was a good agency; professionally run, state-of- the-art, cutting edge…you know, the adjectives that are thrown out. Sure enough, when I got here, that is exactly what I found. It’s a strong department. We lead in technology, training and hiring the highest caliber people. It is a good department with good people. Our officers are dedicated to serving this community in an impartial, equitable manner.

Transforming Policing
Despite all that we have accomplished and continue to achieve in strengthening the bond between community and police, I continue to challenge myself, the department and the City to move forward. Post Fergusson (MO), we’ve been having discussions about accountability and transparency. We’ve taken some real concrete steps that we can point to and yet, we still must be more effective in telling our story. So, what I see as our mandate moving forward, is that we communicate to the public what changes have taken place, and just how hard we’ve worked over the past three years.

To the Department’s credit, there are agencies across the country that are still fighting the battle over body worn cameras. In many cities, unions have come out against or officers have fought back. Yet, here in Grand Rapids, we didn’t have that. We worked collaboratively with the officers and community to develop solutions to build trust.

We’ve reviewed and revised our hiring practices. We’ve undergone implicit bias training. We’ve implemented body worn cameras. We commissioned a study on traffic stops—a process that wasn’t easy to go through. We modified our Photo and Print (P&P) policy. We reviewed and revised our Technology Policy to mandate that requests are approved by the City Commission after conducting public hearings on any proposed new technology purchase. We now outsource our officer-involved shootings to a third party. We are working to educate the public about our Civilian Appeals Board to ensure that residents are aware of their rights. We also continue to work on initiatives listed in the Safe Alliances For Everyone (SAFE) Report, in the 12 Point Plan to Strengthen Community and Police Relations, in the Traffic Stop Study Report and in recommendations listed in the
#GRTalksBack Listening Sessions Executive
Summary.

There are agencies out there that would be happy to accomplish any of those individually, but collectively, to say that we’ve done all those things in 36 months would surprise most anyone who administers, manages or leads a police department of this size.

One of the things that we’ve initiated on our own is undergoing accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). We began this process about six months ago. It’s a national organization that reviews policies to ensure that a department meets or exceeds compliance in more than 500 national standards and follows best practices across the nation.

I know that the City Commission recently approved a contract with a national policing expert to engage in this process, as well, and has formed a Police Policy and Procedures Review Taskforce to seek input from the public to get their perspective. So, to credit the department and the community, we are moving forward to strengthen our organization.

Connection with the Community
Community outreach is an area that we continue to build upon and the ones that I am most proud of are the ones that involve the youth.

The nature of law enforcement inevitably leads to strong feelings. The opportunity to relate to young people before they form opinions – while they are still open to meeting us at their level – is a strategy that benefits both parties in the long run.

Whether it is OnBase with the GRPD, Camp O’Malley, our three Boys & Girls Club, our Citizens Youth Academies or Police Explorers, I believe these initiatives, designed for young people, are our best hope for working collaboratively to change long-held opinions and really to make structural change in the way we police.

The Community Listening Sessions and other special meetings that the City is committed to conducting in the future, are great and very enlightening. However, in addition, I want to promote all the regular opportunities to connect with the GRPD, whether it is Coffee with a Captain, or it’s me having open office hours or sharing our cell phone numbers.

All those outreach efforts are important, but what’s more, every time we are out in public is a chance for our officers to interact with community. I want everyone in the community to feel comfortable to come up to us and share their opinion or express their concerns. I’m very visible. Our captains are very visible. Even our community policing specialists are visible. So, I really want to express that there doesn’t have to be an organized community meeting held specifically to address your concern. Please make a connection with the police department today.

Please feel free to pick up the phone, call my office and ask to speak with me or your service area captain. You can also ask to speak with your community policing specialist. I’d like to get to the point where that communication is ongoing, daily and a little less formal. If we have to wait to have a listening session and have a facilitator come in to communicate, then I don’t think I’m doing my job in serving this community. I need the community to know that they have a voice
365 days-a-year.

State of the Department
The Grand Rapids Police Department’s Annual Report for the 2016 Fiscal Year shows a slight uptick in crime, however, Grand Rapids is safer than other cities our size. I am reluctant to share or compare numbers, because my fear is that that diminishes the value or significance of any one offense. It’s not lost on us that anyone that is victimized is significant. Having said that, the homicide rate, nationally is 12.5 per 100,000 people. So, if we were trending at level, we could expect 25 murders per year. We don’t. Typically, we have half of that. That is significant. There are many cities our size that have two and three times that of the national average. So that is a real success and that is accomplished collaboratively. We don’t have the resources to be everywhere all of the time. So, when we enlist the help of the community, we get an extra set of eyes and ears to what is going on in the neighborhoods. That is what makes a community safe. We must have the ability to work together to fight crime. We have
300 officers, 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents. So, when I look how safe we are, it’s not lost on me. It’s due in large part to the relationships we’ve built. It’s due to community input. It’s a tribute to the neighborhood associations, the business district leadership, and to the people who live in the neighborhoods and who cooperate with us all the time.

Grand Rapids is one of the fastest growing cities in the entire country. I drive through the city and see cranes everywhere. New hotels, medical centers, research centers and apartments are going up across the city. If Grand Rapids was a stock, we’d be a strong buy.

What we need to do as a police department now, is start adding people and additional resources. I don’t want to wait to the point where we start hiring out of necessity. I want to hire now, based on our anticipated growth and based on the expectation of the community for greater engagement. Engagement is very time consuming. It takes a lot of capacity. So, the outlook for the Grand Rapids Police Department is a good one, but I’m starting to be more vocal to the community and to elected officials, residents and decision makers that we need to grow along with this community to have the type of police department that the community envisions, deserves and demands.

 

ABOUT CHIEF RAHINSKY

David Rahinsky serves as the Police Chief of Grand Rapids. Chief Rahinsky  began  his law enforcement career in 1987 when he was hired as a transit police officer by the South- eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority in Phil-

adelphia. In 1989, Chief Rahinsky joined the

Broward Sheriff’s Office in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  During eighteen years  with the  Bro- ward County Sheriff’s Office, Rahinsky served in a variety of assignments culminating  with his selection as the chief of police for the City of Oakland  Park,  Florida. In 2006,  Chief Rahinsky was hired by the City of Franklin, Tennessee, as  its deputy  chief. He was  soon promoted to assistant chief, which was fol- lowed  by  his promotion  to  police chief in

2011.  After a national  search, Rahinsky  was selected as the chief of the Grand Rapids Po- lice Department in July 2014.