Grand Rapids Police Department changes fingerprinting procedures

Posted at 3:33 PM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 21:43:21-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Police Department on Tuesday announced it is eliminating the standard policy of photographing and fingerprinting individuals who don't have identification.

Chief David Rahinsky made the announcement, effective immediately.  Officers will no longer take fingerprints as a "matter of routine practice" in the field.

"With the advent of body-worn cameras and the fact that we've listened to the community ... we're moving ahead with what we consider best practices," he told reporters. "Like any profession, we listen to the people who we serve, and involve and make sure we're responsive."

However, Rahinsky said individuals without ID who have been issued a citation or who exhibit behavior classified as "highly suspicious" will still be fingerprinted at the officer's discretion.

With the new procedure, the number of fingerprints collected by police could be reduced from over 1,000 per year to just a few dozen, according to Rahinksy.

"I think it served the department and the community well for the time that it was in place," he said. "That being said, we're in a new era now, and the new technology, the body worn cameras is really a game changer. It's going to give us an image of the person we're coming into contact with while being much less intrusive."

The chief said the change in the procedure is the result of feedback from the community on relations with police. Rahinksy said the practice has simply become outdated, given it was created largely in response to crack cocaine epidemic during the late 1970s and 80s.

A lawsuit was filed against the City of Grand Rapids and one of its police captains earlier in the year after the officer apparently took a photo and thumb print of a teen who claimed to have done nothing wrong. The lawsuit has since been dismissed.

Rahinksy told reporters Tuesday the lawsuit didn't drive the change.

"We were looking at this practice before the litigation and the lawsuit actually exonerated the practice," he said.

"But having said that, just because something's legal doesn't mean that it's best practice, and as a community and as a department, we're continually striving for to improve, and I think this is a step in the right direction for both."

Reverend Robert Dean, who has been involved in city politics for decades while also working with the city's urban league, called the changes meaningful.

“Just the fact officers are being sensitive, and our chief is being sensitive to the needs of all the community, and that we’re not just representing part of the community," Dean said. “I think it really steps away from the former mentality of basically a ‘police state.’”

City Manager Greg Sundstrom also expressed  support of the change in P&P protocols by the police department.

“There is an enormous spotlight on law enforcement due to national issues that has also, unfortunately, impacted the public’s relationship and confidence in our own police department,” Sundstrom said.