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WATCH: Grand Rapids holds public forum for police chief candidates

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Posted at 6:37 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 23:24:25-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — For the first time, Grand Rapids residents asked questions and met with the men who hope to be the city's next police chief at a community forum held Wednesday night.

Last week, City Manager Mark Washington accounted the finalists: current Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker, retired Milwaukee Police Inspector Jutiki Jackson and Chicago Police Commander Eric Winstrom.

The forum also provided the first look into what people think about these three finalists.

We saw low community engagement when the city began to put together a candidate profile, but dozens of people showed up to Wednesday’s forum in person, with even more taking part online too.

Each candidate spent about a half an hour answering questions and addressing any concerns from community members about their past, present and future in law enforcement.

Most of the conversations focused on police, community relationships and how the candidates would improve trust, accountability and transparency within neighborhoods while building up and advocating for the department's officers.

Many residents say there's a years-long split between the city and GRPD and something needs to change before it's irreversible.

"To hire someone from outside, it's difficult," one resident said. "They don't know the community; they don't know the people; they're not familiar with things, [...] but I think with the three choices that they have, I think they'll be able to find someone."

No one candidate seemed to be the clear favorite.

The three Grand Rapids police chief finalists answered questions and met for the first time with community members.

For one candidate, that meant addressing an incident in which he shot and killed a man.

Retired Milwaukee Police Inspector Jutiki Jackson says that day impacted his career and he often still thinks about it, but he wants people in Grand Rapids to look at the good he accomplished in the 24 years since then, rather than allow the single incident to disqualify him.

In 1997, Jackson killed a man after he ran during a traffic stop. Jackson said that that man kept playing with his waistband and he believed he was armed. According to reports, witnesses said Jackson shot the man while he was on the ground, but Jackson said the gun discharged after the man pulled him to the ground and a struggle ensued.

Prosecutors ultimately decided not to charge Jackson.

"And it was at that point when the gun discharged and the shooting took of the worst days, one of the worst experiences that I've ever been through," says Jackson.

READ MORE: Candidate for GRPD chief involved in 1997 deadly shooting

Meanwhile, Eric Winstrom, a Chicago police commander, called aChicago Sun-Timesarticle from this past September, which critiqued his department, inaccurate.

It had been circulating among community members on social media. The story said Winstrom asked the prosecutor on the case for a "favor" after they requested more evidence in the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl.

Winstrom said his team became frustrated that they let a suspect go and there was more than enough evidence. Prosecutors eventually filed charges against that person and they remain in police custody.

"We've had disagreements before with the state's attorney's office," says Winstrom. "We pushed back. The detectives who were working on it asked me to review it. I read hundreds of pages. I watched hours of video and the detectives were right. This case should've been charged."

And lastly, Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker handled questions about a number of recent, sometimes deadly, officer-involved shootings in his city.

There's been at least three in the past few weeks.

Blocker said while unfortunate, it's an opportunity to practice transparency and use tools that show and share what happened.

"There's really no secrecy in policing," says Blocker. "There's really nothing that we necessarily need to protect unless it's to protect the integrity of a case and the life of a victim."

Community members who wish to leave feedback are encouraged to fill out this survey.

READ MORE: Read the resumes of the 3 candidates for Grand Rapids police chief

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