GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The search for the next Grand Rapids police chief winded on Thursday.
After an intense, two-day visit in which the three finalists pitched themselves to multiple community stakeholders, each of them concluded their trips to the city with FOX 17 and other local media.
In the interviews, the candidates were asked about a wide range of topics, including past controversies, leadership styles, and priorities if appointed to the position.
A summary of each of those interviews are below:
Jutiki Jackson is a retired Milwaukee police inspector and currently works as the director of security for the National Basketball Association.
Earlier this week, FOX 17 learned Jackson shot and killed a man during a traffic stop in 1997.
On Thursday, Jackson revealed that the man was unarmed at the time of the incident.
“No, he was not armed,” said Jackson after FOX 17 asked three separate times, citing ongoing public interest in the matter.
According to reports at the time, Jackson believed the man, who ran from police during the stop, had a weapon. During a community forum, Jackson said he saw the man reach for his waistband as he fled.
Prosecutors eventually ruled the incident accidental and decided not to pursue charges.
Jackson said he hopes people choose to look at what he has done in the 24 years since the incident if he is hired, although he wants to also use it as a lesson for the department.
“Looking back at the overall experience, ensuring that our training programs are meeting state standards and meeting our city standards, our own department standards, and then consistently taking a look at the policies to make sure that best practices are being maintained,” said Jackson. “Take an assessment of the emotional care that’s currently within the agency itself and then what support services are available to families that experience crime.”
Jackson plans to use data and community-wide input to develop a crime-reduction strategy. He adds conversations go a long way too and that’s how he wants to build trust among people and officers.
“I know with the right resources, we can make an impact in neighborhoods,” said Jackson. “Grand Rapids has that support system here. Grand Rapids has the foundation to build strong relationships.”
Eric Winstrom is a commander with the Chicago Police Department.
In his interview, Winstrom said residents empower law enforcement and he wants to frequently use their opinions and experiences in developing department policy.
Rather than hit a certain arrest quota, Winstrom says he’d like to see more positive interactions between GRPD and community members.
At CPD, Winstrom said he helped implement a program that allowed officers to spend about 30 percent of their time creating relationships rather than being on calls or crime scenes.
“Whether it’s following up on a crime condition, talking to a business owner, following up with the victim of a crime, it’s those sort of ways that — and I’ve heard the saying before — every police should be a community police officer, and it really is true,” said Winstrom.
With fewer staff and higher turnover plaguing Grand Rapids police, Winstrom acknowledged it may be difficult to pull officers off of response calls, but he believes implementing at least portions of positive interaction plans will lead to a better work culture, which ultimately attracts talent.
“A lot of efforts can be taken, but it boils down to if I’m the chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department; the idea is to make the Grand Rapids Police Department a great place to work for officers,” said Winstrom. “Word travels fast in a law enforcement community.”
Questions about Winstrom’s ability to improve officer morale lingered after a Chicago Sun-Timesarticle in September said Winstrom asked a prosecutor for a favor after the state asked for more evidence in the case.
According to CST, in a memo Winstrom said he needed the help because his “team had bad morale problems and [he] will not be able to keep his team together with the rejections that have happened.”
When asked by FOX 17, Winstrom acknowledged he requested the favor for morale reasons, but said it wasn’t because of any department-wide issues. He said his officers were frustrated that the suspect wasn’t being held accountable for allegedly killing a child.
Prosecutors in the case eventually authorized charges.
“After I did the complete and thorough review, I realized that rejection error, so I called the state’s attorney’s office and I said, ‘Please do me a favor and review everything because this case needs to be charged,’” recalled Winstrom.
Jim Blocker is the police chief for the Battle Creek Police Department.
Blocker harped on the need to be transparent in his interview. He said most people’s frustrations come from a lack of knowledge or understanding, so it’s critical to provide information in a timely manner to build trust.
“What we’ve found is if you introduce a problem and start working with the community, typically, jointly you can come up with a solution,” said Blocker. “Whether it’s tech, whether it’s a program… it’s been highly successful.”
Blocker added most cities need a more holistic approach to crime, rather than leaving all of the problems to police to fix.
If hired, he said he would collaborate with community partners, like organizations and neighborhood groups, even if some people may be wary of the approach due to some rising crime rates.
“This idea of just adding more people to address crime is misunderstanding the idea that crime, and its increase, is a law enforcement problem,” said Blocker. “It’s actually a community problem, and so when you really start to follow the root of the problem, the cause of the problem... you may find it’s because there’s children without food. There’s children and young people that don’t have programs to be a part of.”