GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On Tuesday, Chicago Police Commander Eric Winstrom stayed true to his reputation as a community-based cop upon his official introduction to the city whose police force he will now lead.
“I plan to be the most exhausted person in the city of Grand Rapids in the first 30 days,” he said inside the City Commission Chambers during his official introduction Tuesday afternoon. “There's dozens of communities here, there are dozens of neighborhoods, I think there's something like 24 or more neighborhood associations. I'd love to meet with every single one of them.”
Winstrom comes to Grand Rapids from the Windy City, where he served on the CPD force for nearly 20-years. In that time, he served as a patrol officer, on tactical teams, as an investigator and administrator, as an instructor at the Chicago Police Academy, and as a barred attorney with a J.D. from the Brooklyn Law School. In his most recent command role, he oversaw 200 employees including 40 homicide detectives.
“I'll be brand new here in Grand Rapids,” he added Thursday. “There's a lot of people that I need to meet internally as well. So I'm going to be busy, I'm going to be tired, but it's going to be wonderful.”
Commander Winstrom was joined at the press conference by his family. He said they were in the process of moving to Grand Rapids.
Winstrom comes from a family with deep ties to the criminal justice system, on both sides of it. In Ottawa County, Winstrom Park is named for the commander’s great-grandfather, who served as a deputy sheriff there in the 1960s. But when he was young, Winstrom recalls the arrest and treatment of his brother after he was jailed on drug charges as a teenager in Austin, Texas. Winstrom said it affected his decision to enter law enforcement, and his policies as an officer of the law.
“It gave me the insight to see not only the impact incarceration has on an individual, somebody that obviously I love very much, but also family,” he said. “So I'm excited where I am now. We're working on things like the Narcotics Diversion Program, where we try and divert people out of the criminal justice process. It's really impacted me; it's impacted my whole philosophy on policing."
Winstrom said he’d eventually like to bring the city’s jail numbers down by turning to more forms of alternative sentencing.
He also touted his work during racial injustice protesting in 2014 and 2020 in Chicago, saying protestors were allowed their First Amendment rights without excessive use of force.
When asked about his approach to mending racial divides in Grand Rapids, after a 2017 study found Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be pulled over versus white drivers, and several high profile incidences that garnered national attention, Winstrom said the answer required two approaches.
“It goes to recruitment and retention. You want a diverse workforce, no one with a diverse background is going to want to be at a place that tolerates that sort of bias,” he said. “My approach, just in general, is I'm going to get out of the community. I'm going to meet everyone and I want to hear input like this.”