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Grand Rapids city manager recommends hiring more cops, body cameras in wake of Ferguson

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids’ city manager wants police officers to start wearing body cameras by March.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom and Police Chief David Rahinsky do not believe racial profiling is a problem in the Grand Rapids Police Department. But there have been claims to the contrary in the wake of incidents in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.

“When we had an independent evaluation of our police department it ranked very, very high – one of the best,” Sundstrom said. “Having said that, and even if it’s only a (negative) perception, we must address it.”

City Commissioner Senita Lenear cited data that show black men and women are at least three times more likely to be arrested than their white peers.

“That’s a huge disparity. And as we’re looking at some of the recommendations throughout this, the goal then is to have a reduction in those types of disparities,” Lenear said.

“We ought not jump to conclusions on that number without first doing the good background investigation, evaluation of the data that this report recommends, "Mayor George Heartwell said. "But if there is a disparate impact and it’s the result of bias then absolutely we will and we must address that.”

Body cameras are one of a dozen recommendations Sundstorm estimates will cost the city at least $1.5 million.

He also want to hire between one and a dozen new community police officers, revamp the city’s hiring practices, and put more diversity training in place for police officers.

Sundstrom says a 2004 study that found city police officers did not racially profile should be redone using current data. And he wants to get an outside consultant to analyze the arrests of people of color who are “hindering and opposing” and “resisting and obstructing” officers, and report back to city commissioners by December.

“One of the most important recommendations here is that we cannot begin using body cameras until we develop the protocols for the use of body cameras,” Sundstrom said.

Those protocols would determine when officers should use the body cameras, and set privacy standards.

The cost of implementing the recommendations is unknown. Sundstrom estimates it’s at least $1.5 million.

City commissioners will have to vote on the plan, likely by next month.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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