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Stateside Podcast: Grand Rapids policing, 1 year after Patrick Lyoya was killed

The Grand Rapids Police Department
Brett Dahlberg
Michigan Radio
A fence erected around the Grand Rapids Police Department.

On April 4, 2022, Patrick Lyoya, a Congolese immigrant living in Grand Rapids, was shot and killed by a white Grand Rapids Police officer. Lyoya was 26 years old.

In the subsequent weeks after the tragedy, protests erupted across the state. Protesters demanded accountability from the Grand Rapids Police Department. Some called for police reform; others for defunding the GRPD.

It’s been a year since the tragedy, and the city has taken some steps to reform the police department.

City Commissioner Kelsey Purdue noted one of the reforms: contractual changes to the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association. The new police union contract allows the police oversight office greater access into officer complaint investigations, along with other stipulations.

“We have things in that contract that have never been done in Michigan before – one of them being adding oversight language directly into the contract; acknowledging the role of our Civilian Appeals Board – acknowledging its role and authority,” Purdue said.

Purdue was running her campaign when Lyoya was killed. As a life-long Grand Rapids resident, she said she understood the racial disparities in the city well before being elected.

“I was very familiar with underinvestment. I was very familiar with over-policing before I became a candidate,” Purdue said. “Those were some of the reasons why I wanted to become a candidate.”

Another reform over the past year has been integrating social workers during mental health related public safety calls. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said the new program is going “great.”

“Unfortunately, historically, we have seen that introducing the presence of an armed police officer into something that they might not best be trained to handle an individual mental health crisis has not always had good outcomes,” Winstrom said.

He said that people in crisis instead of being sent to jail are “going to the hospital [or] they're going to the psychologist's office.”

A year after the killing of Patrick Loyoya, Commissioner Purdue acknowledged the collaborative work that’s been accomplished. But she also said more needs to be done.

“As a city, I think we've evolved rather quickly … We've talked about for so many years [about] problems and opportunities with policing and public safety. And more and more, we're seeing some concrete actions,” she said. “There's certainly more to do. And I join the residents of all of Grand Rapids as well as my constituents in saying: what is that next step?

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.