Community addresses city leaders over body cameras for GRPD

Posted at 11:15 PM, Dec 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-16 23:33:16-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The most talked about topic at Tuesday's city commission meeting Tuesday was body cameras for Grand Rapids police officers.

With recent incidents around the country, many people in West Michigan are pushing for what they call more transparency.

Some told their own stories, claiming they've been unfairly profiled by police.

"They take us both out of the car," ," said one citizen. "The driver, which has a legit license, and me as a passenger. We were taken to the back of the police car, and my son was still in the back seat. They took him out the backseat and questioned him about where we were going."

Former Grand Rapids Commissioner Robert Dean said the last time a racial profile study was conducted was back when he was in office, and at that time community members where pushing for dash cameras in all patrol cars. He added that the idea of recording arrests is not new.

"It's just amazing many of the things that we've done in the past and how it's seemingly coming back around," Dean said.

Mayor George Heartwell said the issue is much broader than just body cameras, and the real issue is the community's relationship with police.

Many agreed that body cameras aren’t the final answer but said that it’s a step in the right direction.

"We are taking about a community that has has been so disenfranchised that they don't know what to do at this point," said Stacie Nichols. "So we have to start with body cameras to again increase transparency and trust."

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan cited a study which said African-Americans are arrested almost six times as often as Caucasians in the City of Grand Rapids.

Community members also voiced concern over who will monitor the body cameras, asking if an officer would be able to shut the camera off at their own discretion.

"We are here to support the community in their reasonable request for body cameras," said Michael Scruggs, Kent County Black Caucus. "It will serve as an olive branch. Sure it's not an exactitude, it will serve as a spring of harmony."

Other community members said they aren’t convinced body cameras will bring about stiffer penalties to police officers, adding that the death of Eric Gardner in New York was caught on camera but no officers were indicted.

So far, nothing has been voted on, and the issue of body cameras remains just an idea community members want the commission to explore.

The commission is expected to bring up the issue again on January 13, 2015.