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A look at changes in GRPD crisis response 10 years after the Dantzler murders

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Posted at 3:52 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 16:59:06-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Ten years ago today, there were hours of terror in Grand Rapids and a citywide manhunt.

Roderick Dantzler, who was high on cocaine, killed seven people, including his own wife and daughter.

Police chased him through the city and eventually onto the highway during rush hour as Dantzler fired shots from his car.

After a crash, he took hostages. After hours inside, Dantzler took his own life, and the hostages were able to get out safely.

Through it all, hostage negotiators were a crucial part of putting an end to the day.

It’s a day Grand Rapids will never forget.

Things have changed for the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) in the past decade when it comes to responses like this one.

In times of crisis, Grand Rapids police have a specific team.

“We’ve found that the old days of throwing someone a phone through a window and talking to them are gone,” says GRPD Sgt. Dan Adams.

The same team was there ten years ago to help free three people Roderick Dantzler held hostage.

But nothing with the department’s crisis response team has been the same since.

“What makes it difficult to us is they have such a reach. They can reach out to family members, other people, or their posting on their social media,” explained Adams.

GRPD has new strategies and a vehicle to do it. Now negotiators have a space to only negotiate, a resource they didn’t have ten years ago.

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“We send our people to everything from basic tactics on negotiation techniques to specific dynamics, whether it’s veterans with PTSD, whether it’s people going through mental illness, whether it’s religious fanatics,” said Adams.

But reasoning with a man who had just killed seven people and high on cocaine would prove impossible.

“He just wasn’t in a logical place,” Adams told FOX 17.

Dantzler took his life, but three lives were spared.

RELATED: 10 years since the Dantzler murders in Grand Rapids

No question about it, police have learned the value of those moments where things can get so much worse.

“That’s the negotiator's job, to try to reach that person on a personal level. That things are not as bad as they may seem,” said Adams.

Because what set one hostage free was giving Dantzler Gatorade and cigarettes.

“When we’re on that phone talking to those people in their moment of crisis, we’re never hoping for their death,” explained Adams.

Though Dantzler’s life couldn’t be spared in the end, members of the crisis response team know their job is an important one, just as important on July 7, 2021, ten years after a tragedy, to try to prevent the next one.

“Him knowing he was looking at multiple murder charges, whatever faced him after that. It always makes it difficult for the negotiator, reasoning with someone going through all that,” explained Adams.

Seven people lost their lives that day.

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27-year-old Amanda Emkens and her 10-year-old daughter Marisa, as well as Emken’s sister Kimberlee, who Dantzler dated in the past.

The killer’s wife, 29-year-old Jennifer Heeren, her parents, Thomas and Rebecca, both in their 50s, and his own 12-year-old daughter with Jennifer. Her name was Kamrie.

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