Less than six months into his role as the 15th police chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department, Eric Winstrom is revising policies to improve constitutional policing.
During the Grand Rapids City Commission’s Committee of the Whole meeting on July 26, Winstrom presented several findings and future plans for the department based on his own initial review.
Winstrom, who has served in his role as police chief since March 7, outlined several observations, action items and recommendations for the department while recognizing the collective healing the community needs.
“Our community has been through significant trauma over the last several years with the pandemic, and with the shooting death of Patrick Lyoya,” Winstrom said. “Everyone has felt that.”
Winstrom also acknowledged a mixed response to police presence within Grand Rapids.
“I have heard those who call for defunding or abolition of the police department and I have heard from a majority of residents and businesses that desire better police presence,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is translate what the community thinks and feels into better policing.”
Among his recommendations are new policies and procedures focused on an explicit requirement for de-escalation and an emphasis on the sanctity of human life as the department’s highest priority.
Policy changes also include the requirement of a warning before the use of deadly force, the use of deadly force only when “necessary” to do so and the requirement of de-escalation techniques and the opportunity to voluntarily comply.
According to Winstrom, training for these policies began Aug. 2 and will become effective once training is complete to ensure all officers understand the changes and expectations. The training will focus on topics such as self-regulation, de-escalation and understanding historical racism in American policing.
In response to concerns from a previous city commission meeting regarding the length of time for the de-escalation training, Winstrom clarified the difference between classroom training and ongoing scenario-based training, saying the new skills would be utilized on an ongoing basis.
When implemented, the policy changes will be updated in the Policies and Procedures section of the GRPD website.
Winstrom also emphasized the importance of language in addition to action when it comes to these types of changes.
“Policy language can help change the culture of an organization,” he said.
Other priorities for Winstrom include plans to recast the role of the Special Response Team, improve victim support services, expand the co-response pilot, staff to the full complement of authorized officers and work to continue to improve the overall efficiency and transparency of the department.
Winstrom’s review built upon previous studies between 2015 and 2021 and the department’s 2021-2023 Strategic Plan in addition to his previous law enforcement experience with the Chicago Police Department.
His specific engagement plan for this process involved regular meetings with his advisory team, conversations with local organizations and neighborhood groups, listening sessions with faith-based organizations, input from community surveys and time spent listening to officers.
His observations from these engagement efforts include:
- Neighbors are asking for a more visible police presence
- How the community wants to be policed is evolving; mutual respect is critical to success
- There is a strong training culture that is well-positioned for continuous improvement
- Safety and constitutional policing must work hand-in-hand
- Recognition that the police department is only part of the effort to create a safe community; safety is a community priority and is everyone’s responsibility
- The Office of Public Accountability (OPA) is a critical element of joint progress
- Grand Rapids’ challenges are not unique — many cities across the country are facing rising crime rates, recruiting challenges and evolving expectations of policing
Furthermore, his presentation included an update on current crime data and the roll-out of the Date Informed Community Engagement (DICE) program, which focuses resources on crime patterns in highly localized areas of the city.
DICE is a partnership between the community and the police to brainstorm ways to solve crimes specific to an area in ways that people welcome and support while focusing enforcement efforts on crimes that most impact safety and quality of life within those areas.
Pilot areas for this program are the Burton Heights and Heartside neighborhoods as well as the area of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Eastern Avenue.
In discussing the new policies and community efforts, Winstrom recognized the importance of partnerships and a whole-of-government approach.
“We can’t do it alone,” he said. “We all have a role to play in public safety.”
Winstrom said the department will evaluate the success of these efforts through crime data, feedback from neighbors and neighborhoods, co-response model outcomes, staffing progress and additional factors.
Ahead of Winstrom’s presentation, City Manager Mark Washington noted the pre-planned nature of this review, though he said it was delayed due to the death of Patrick Lyoya and other issues surrounding an increase in crime.
“I asked Chief Winstrom upon hire to begin, as he begins learning the department and the community, to share his early observations, and we intended for that to occur shortly after his arrival,” Washington said. “We had actually discussed this type of review as a condition of his hiring.”
Washington also said the review was not done as a direct response to the recent complaints filed against the Grand Rapids Police Department by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
According to Winstrom, this review was a critical community-informed step that will set the stage for the 2024-2027 Strategic Plan.
He continued to emphasize the importance of combined efforts from the public and the police department in bringing about safety and necessary change.
“In the face of intense public scrutiny, the men and women of GRPD continue to give a 100% effort to make Grand Rapids a safer place for everyone,” Winstrom said. “Our success will hinge not only on our efforts to provide professional, compassionate and courageous service, but on the support Grand Rapids shows its police officers.”