Grand Rapids city officials address residents’ questions during ‘talk back’ sessions

Posted at 4:50 PM, Jul 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-24 16:50:24-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Monday, for the first time after five "GR Talks Back" community listening and feedback sessions, Grand Rapids officials say responding to their residents and taking action is a "top priority."

City Manager Greg Sundstrom and Second Ward City Commissioner Joe Jones presented Grand Rapids residents' questions, concerns and feedback given during five community listening sessions between June 12 to 20.

During these meetings officials updated residents on the Lamberth Traffic Stop Study, the city's 12-point Plan and the community-led Safe Alliances for Everyone (SAFE). Then officials listened to residents respond to six themes: communication and community engagement; police officer hiring; police officer training; Arrest Disparity Study; polices and procedures review; and body cameras.

Read city's full Executive Summary for Community Talk Back Sessions here.

Overall, a goal is improving community-police relations and addressing racial inequalities by putting in place community-drive solutions citywide.

“I have very strong feelings around the theory of indigenous wisdom," said Jones. "I do believe that the answer lies within in the communities that reside in these neighborhoods.”

“We don’t want people to be misinformed, we want to really try to create this openness to where the community feels as if they can speak their piece, they can have their opinion heard, and that most importantly their opinion matters.”

Jones says this is the start of a new process: Grand Rapids city officials will commit to listening more to their community. Among the residents' feedback were also some misunderstandings of issues and policies that Jones says the city must better educate the public on, for instance how Grand Rapids police officers actually use body cameras.

Mid-presentation Monday, Sundstrom said, “I think it’s fair to say at the highest level, this report was about communications, about the city needs to do a better job of communicating. I think one of the things that we heard over and over again is, ‘I want to be involved, but I need to know how and when.’”

While the city's executive summary states residents say they're skeptical of whether city officials would take action based on their feedback, officials, with the police chief and mayor present, said next steps are a top priority.

“I can tell you that myself, my colleagues, the mayor in particular, city manager, we are operating with a tremendous sense of urgency because this is not something we can allow to fester," said Jones, "We have to get right at it and be very proactive in our efforts and in our approach. So we’re going to do that."

By Aug. 20 city officials say they will post their responses online to residents' questions and concerns raised last month. Meanwhile, the city is planning to hold further listening sessions with communities of color because officials say attendance at the five meetings was not representative of Grand Rapids' racial demographics.