Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne signals retirement

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GRPD Police Chief Eric Payne Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

After more than three decades in uniform, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne announced his plans to retire.

After informing City Manager Mark Washington, Payne on Tuesday publicly announced he intends to retire in early 2022. Payne assumed duties as Grand Rapids chief of police in 2019.

In addition to being the first African American chief in the department’s history, Payne also led the organization through unprecedented public scrutiny on policing by creating and implementing the department’s first community-informed strategic plan while also navigating the public safety impacts of a global pandemic.

Payne also instituted several reforms, including a neighborhood policing model, victim assistance unit, officer mental health position, documented use of force procedure reform based on “8 can’t wait” and police participation in the city’s first co-response HOT team effort.

Payne said he believes now is the time for him to hand the reins off to spend more time with his family.

“When I took this position, I was clear with the community, the city manager and — most importantly — my family, I had a clear set of goals I wanted to accomplish but that this was going to be a three-to-five-year assignment,” Payne said.

According to Payne, those goals included transforming public safety in Grand Rapids by focusing on community relationships, transparency, staffing and training. Washington said Payne has positioned the department and the city well heading into the future.

“The last few years have been challenging for law enforcement nationally, and Grand Rapids hasn’t been immune to that, but I can’t imagine a better person to help us navigate this moment than Eric Payne,” Washington said.

“His commitment to the people of this community and his officers has been a guiding force as we worked to reimagine public safety in this city,” Washington said.

Payne first came to Grand Rapids to attend school at Grand Valley State University and joined the Grand Rapids Police Department in 1987. He steadily worked his way up the ranks before being tapped by Washington to lead the GRPD in July 2019.

Payne credited his deep roots for informing the way he approached his role as chief and dealt with some of the challenges he’s had to confront.

“I came into the job with an idea of what I wanted to do. Community policing, enhancing training and accountability measures on diversity and inclusion, ensuring we were a values-based organization that matched those of the people we serve, in many ways, I was already taking the department in this direction before the events of last year,” Payne said.

“I think that made it easier to have some of the tough conversations other communities might have struggled with, and it certainly helped in writing our department strategic plan because the community reaffirmed we all wanted the same things.”

The advanced notice of his retirement is expected to help in the transition process.

“I want to thank the chief for his thoughtful service and giving us adequate time to plan for his departure. I’ll be looking to engage with the community, stakeholders and our police department staff to determine what this community desires in our next police chief before I make an appointment,” Washington said. “That person is going to have big shoes to fill.”

Washington said he plans to announce a process to fill the position in the coming months.

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