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The state could investigate Grand Rapids Police Dept. after two civil rights hearings

Grand Rapids Police cruiser
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids Police cruiser

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is considering a full investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department.

The department held two public hearings Thursday to hear from residents, and most of the testimonies painted the police in a negative light.

The city’s police department has been under scrutiny after two recent incidents where police were accused of using unnecessary force on people of color.

One incident involved two Latino teenagers being held at gunpoint. The other incident involves a driver being hit repeatedly by an officer. The city’s police department says officers were following protocols in both incidents.

Deandre Jones is a city resident and community activist who works with teens and younger children. Jones says GRPD officers need to be better advocates for their community.

“You can’t tell people that you care about them, but then do things to protect the bad officers that are doing bad to them. Your job is to protect people, not keep officers out of trouble,” Jone said.

Elaine Lewis, a Legal Fellow with the ACLU of Michigan, says she’s only been in Grand Rapids for about a year and she’s already noticed racial bias in the city’s police. And that’s a problem.

“Racism can blind cops and it can make them not notice things that should be obvious. And it makes them worse at their job if their job is to actually keep the community safe,” Lewis said.

Lewis says she has been followed by officers while walking to her apartment in Heritage Hill, a predominantly white neighborhood near downtown Grand Rapids.

But even some white residents spoke about the police departments issues in the community. Hillary Scholten, an attorney with Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, says the department needs more oversight.

“The police cannot police themselves, so we’re glad that the Department of Civil Rights is paying attention to this issue, and will hopefully be able to provide some much needed oversight,” Scholten said.

Cle Jackson, President of the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP, says he wants the city's police to hold its officers accountable. Jackson thinks that a good start will be hiring the right person as Chief of Police.

"The number one thing that the Grand Rapids Police Department, and city commission should consider is that this next chief will not have a problem or any fear about standing up to both police unions,” Jackson said.

Jackson says he understands that not every officer in the department is bad.

“But we also understand that people’s civil rights and civil liberties should not be trampled on,” he said.


Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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