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‘I’m so excited to be here’: Chief Winstrom ready to build trust with all communities

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Posted at 6:16 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 20:33:36-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Chief Eric Winstrom was sworn in on Monday night and said it’s been "fantastic" getting to know the members of the city government and the police department.

However, what he’s really looking forward to is meeting everyone else in the city, he said.

“I’ve got plans to go to the Children’s Advocacy Center,” he said during an interview with FOX 17 on Thursday at headquarters. “I’m going to hit the streets with the homeless-outreach team over the weekend, so I can meet up with the folks at Network180 who work on the team and the firefighters.”

Also, he has plans to meet with other community organizations throughout the city, he said. As COVID restrictions ease and the weather gets warm, he plans to meet with all communities.

“Even before I was sworn in President Cle Jackson of the NAACP graciously reached out to me and asked if I would talk with his organization, which is absolutely fantastic,” Chief Winstrom said. “We spent about an hour and a half or two hours talking with President Jackson and his leadership team just about all the issues they see in the police department.”

In recent years, Grand Rapids officers have been involved in tense situations with the communities of color. Most recently, an officer’s gun went off near Daevionne
Smith, cousin of Breonna Taylor, during an incident near his father’s home. Police called it an accidental discharge. Smith was shaken, he said to FOX 17 in a previous interview.

READ MORE: Bodycam footage released of GRPD officer accused of unintentionally firing gun

It was incidents like these, and the unrest in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd, that former Police Chief Eric Payne created a three-year plan to build trust between the community and the department.

Chief Winstrom said building trust is key.

“I’ve spoken to a lot about accountability and transparency. And where accountability is concerned, you can’t tolerate any sort of biased-based policing, any excessive force things like that,” Chief Winstrom said. “It’s too early for me to point out any deficiencies in the police department as I’m still learning it. But, I’m going to look to make sure that we are being as transparent as possible, to earn that trust.”

He said another way to build trust is to know the history of policing. He reminisced about educating young officers in the Chicago Police Department, where he got his start, about the importance of knowing the past.

“You need to know the history of policing. You need to know the history of race relations and policing in this country. That's really your metric to know are we doing better? Are we doing better tomorrow? That’s very important to me.”

Winstrom said when he became a police officer back in 2000, the metrics to determine success were the number arrests made or cars towed. However, that’s not his approach. He’s ready to build trust, he said, and instruct his officers do the same.

“I love this town. I’m so excited to be here,” Chief Winstrom said. “It may be only four days here but already I feel like I belong.”

RELATED: Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne remembers time with department on last day

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