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1-on-1: New Grand Rapids Police Chief discusses community relations, accountability

It has been four days since Grand Rapids' new police chief was sworn in.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's the first week on the job for the newly sworn-in Grand Rapids Police Chief and he's hitting the ground running.  

In a one-on-one interview with 13 ON YOUR SIDE reporter Carla Bayron Thursday afternoon, Chief Eric Winstrom said his number one priority is to make relationships with the public and to build trust.

To do that, he said it's important to take advantage of opportunities where police officers can have positive interactions with members of the public. 

"My policing philosophy is every police officer should be a community policing officer," Winstrom said. "That means they're spending their day in the way that's most benefitting the community. Sometimes that's responding to 911 calls or sometimes following up with crime victims or problem solving with the community, attending community events."

Q: "How would you improve accountability and transparency?" 

WINSTROM: "It's a little bit too early for me to say where the deficiencies are, but I've already made that connection with Brandon Davis from the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability (OPA) and I really want to learn about OPA and CAB, the Civilians Appeals Board, and find out how the three of us together can get a more efficient, functioning system and part of that is communication and there might be a lot of room for improvement for communication."

Q: "Would you be open to having more news conferences, anything along those lines, again that goes along with transparency."

WINSTROM: "My philosophy is if somebody wants to come talk to me, I want to talk to them as well. That as well goes for the media. I think it would be a rare occurrence for anyone in the media to call and say, 'hey we want to talk about this' and I say 'no that's not happening,' so absolutely."

Q: "Are there any other groups that you've met with or talked to, the NAACP, for example?" 

WINSTROM: "I'm heading over to the ACLU to meet with them tomorrow and develop that relationship. I have talked to the President Cle Jackson. He graciously reached out to me. I've already met for about an hour and 45 minutes with him and his leadership team and laid a solid foundation for a productive relationship moving forward."

"Before my swearing-in, I spent almost two hours with the NAACP and we had talked. They had mentioned early on about me as a chief because I made a statement that ShotSpotter might be a good idea and they had strong concerns about that. Of course, I was unaware they had a very robust conversation about ShotSpotter here. During the time we spoke together, they conveyed to me there are some areas of the city if ShotSpotter or some other reason drew police cars to the community that would be a comfort and other places it doesn't offer comfort. So really getting to that point where anyone in Grand Rapids seeing that police car, they're happy seeing the police. That's where I want to land."

Question: "How would you attract people to join the department?"

WINSTROM: "That's a real challenge, not just in the Grand Rapids Police Department, but in Michigan and really all across the country. There are so many options for employment and because of what's going in the past couple of years, a lot of people who maybe looking towards policing as a career are thinking it's not for them. Bringing that back as far as how we get the talent to come to Grand Rapids is first you have to take advantage of those opportunities like reaching out on social media, attending job fairs. I'd like to start visiting military job fairs. I've talked to the city manager about funding for trips to historically black colleges to improve our diversity within the ranks."

Q: What are you most looking forward to as police chief?

WINSTROM: "I'm most looking forward to meeting the people. A lot of that's already happened. I've been here four days and have met hundreds of people in the department and then meeting everybody out in the community. I'm going to attend a St. Patrick's Day Parade this weekend. I'm going to tag along with the Homeless Outreach Team. I'll be visiting the Child Advocacy Center. I've got a ton on my schedule. The Chamber of Commerce; the ACLU. Just getting out and meeting everybody in Grand Rapids and hearing from the community especially about what they're expecting out of me and GRPD." 

WATCH THE FULL INTERVEIW WITH CHIEF WINSTROM:

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