Public meetings to address Grand Rapids study on police traffic stop bias

Posted at 10:19 PM, Apr 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-19 22:24:13-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There were three meetings Wednesday in Grand Rapids to give the public a chance to weigh in on the recently released study showing that black drivers are twice as likely to be stopped by police than non-black drivers in the city.

The 100-page Traffic Stop Data Analysis was released Tuesday.  Lamberth Consulting surveyors observed different locations in the city and recorded drivers’ demographics in those areas at random. Data was then compared to traffic stops made in those areas between 2013 and 2015.

Out of the 20 locations analyzed, 16 showed problematic disparities for black drivers and five showed disparities for Hispanic drivers.

The study is part of City Manager Greg Sundstrom’s 12-point plan to increase transparency in the Grand Rapids Police Department.

>> Read the full report

One of the recommendations by the consulting agency that conducted the traffic study included getting the 2016 data analyzed to see if the pattern continues, which is what it seems to have done between 2013 and 2015.  It even rose between those years, according to the report.

Another recommendation the agency is making is training both in the field and with core values.  They say the training needs to be revamped and the department needs to look at how they are instilling values and procedures to make sure they aren’t biased.

The consulting firm provided bias training to the department and found, while most were receptive, a small group within the department believes training to prevent bias is not relevant. Some even said it’s a fad and politically motivated by events going on around the United States, and they believe it will eventually die down.

“I certainly think they are in the minority,” Grand Rapids Police Chief Dave Rahinsky said of those who thought the training was irrelevant. “And I also think in a lot of respects officers are a hard group just by the nature of the way they carry themselves, that’s the way they are interpreted.  Even those that may have given off that message, they are going to take these lessons to heart. They hear from the community. They hear from leadership, and I’m confident we will make changes.”

The next step for the department is to not only get data for 2016, but adopt recommendations from the consultants as well as community groups and different branches of city government. They said in these meetings they are going to keep the public informed by posting the progress on the city website.

The Associated Press contributed to this report