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Ottawa County law enforcement answers community questions during forum on racism

Members of Grand Haven Public Safety, the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office and Michigan State Police made up a panel that discussed racism in the justice system.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — A story from a Black co-worker in a training seminar really stuck with Ottawa County Undersheriff Val Weiss.

"She said 'We actually are taught as young teenagers when we start driving, how to deal with being pulled over by the police, because we're scared.' Not like everybody else is scared because it's a traffic citation they may get. They're truly scared," Weiss said.

The undersheriff shared the story with dozens of people at a virtual forum on racism in the justice system hosted Monday night by the Momentum Center in Grand Haven.

"That really resonated with me that we have to do something different. All of us got into law enforcement because we want to make a difference and we want to protect our community, and to know that anybody feels like that, that was really hard to hear," she said.

Weiss, along with Grand Haven Administrative Lieutenant Joe Boyle and Michigan State Police Captain Dale Hinz, made up a panel that answered questions from the community on a number of issues related to policing. Those topics included the recruitment of people of color and women to serve in their departments, addressing issues of racism in the community, combating a culture of silence in policing and the mental health of both police officers and community members.

Before talking to the panelists, participants were polled on how confident they are in talking about racism and whether they think racism is a problem in their community. The results showed that most people felt comfortable having conversations about racism and 76% identified racism as a systemic problem in their communities.

Participants were also sorted into breakout rooms and their suggestions will be sent to an anti-racism task force to be reviewed for potential further actions.

Capt. Hinz, who serves an area covering 14 West Michigan counties, shared the Michigan State Police Transparency and Accountability page. Among other things, it details the training that Michigan State Police troopers receive and statistical reports including traffic stop data.

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