The release of video by Grand Rapids police that shows officers detaining five black youths during a gun investigation is a textbook example of how police should respond to a high-risk stop, even when it involves kids, Chief David Rahinsky said.
“The officers showed empathy, they understood the ages of the children,'' he said Friday after video of the March 24 incident was released. "They did their due diligence in terms of not putting themselves in harm's way but they also showed that they appreciated the fact that these were young men.’’
Several minutes of video were released, beginning with the first report of a youth with a gun to when the boys were eventually released to their parents.
“Guys. Get on the ground. Keep your hands out,’’ an officer says to the five during the March 24 stop not far from the Salvation Army Kroc Center, where officers responded to a report of a fight involving 100 youth. “We’ll give you directions, OK? Just follow our directions and we’ll be alright, OK?’’
Two minutes into the stop, with the five on the ground, an officer tries to reassure the group as more units respond.
“Just calm down, calm down. OK?’’
The police response came after a nearby resident told officers a group of youths passed his home; one had a revolver.
(View the video here)
The five were stopped on Francis Avenue near Melville Street SE. They were returning home after playing basketball. Some were dressed in clothing similar to what was described by the man who said he saw a youth handling a revolver.
“What we were told from the witness was that the individuals fitting this description did have a gun,'' Rahinsky said. "So the officers acted on the information they had at the time.’’
None of the boys were armed and they were released to their parents. But dozens of people attended a recent Grand Rapids City Commission meeting to complain about the stop and demand an apology.
“The department certainly is empathetic towards the families,’’ Rahinsky said. “If that’s your teenaged son being ordered to the ground at gunpoint, I recognize the emotional response that that elicits.
“I wish we lived in a community or a country where we don’t take guns off of young men,'' he said. "But we do. We take guns off of teenagers with some frequency.’’’
Rahinsky says police this year have taken guns off of six juveniles. He said he hopes the videos help people view the incident from the perspective of police.
“This gives us an opportunity to explain what they’re seeing, to explain that this is how you respond to a gun call,’’ he said. “And the conversations afterwards and the dialog have been healthy.’’
At one point in the video, the mother of one of the boys tearfully questions police about what happened.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean no disrespect, but y’all got to understand. That’s my baby right there,’’ the woman says.
“We’re just doing our jobs because a lot of people out here have guns,’’ an officer explains. “We’re not saying your kids had guns or anything like that, but we’re just doing our jobs.’’
After the dust had settled, Rahinsky said one of the five detained boys made reference to a gun at the Kroc Center, 2500 South Division Avenue.
“At the end of the one interaction, a young man says ‘oh, this is about the gun,’'' Rahinsky said. "He even goes as far as giving a description of the individual, saying he was dressed all in black and had the gun in a backpack.’’
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