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'Absolutely sickening': Grand Rapids Police chief weighs in on a violent start to summer

Chief Winstrom says 40 of his officers are at or nearing eligibility for retirement.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's been a violent summer in Grand Rapids — highlighted by a double homicide overnight on Martin Luther King Street near Eastern Avenue. It's the most recent fatal shooting to happen in city, but it's certainly not the only one.

"I'm certainly disappointed with the level of violence that we're seeing, but any level of violence is unacceptable," said Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom. "And we had two murders last night. Absolutely sickening."

He says morale has been down since April 4, the day Patrick Lyoya was shot and killed by former GRPD officer Christopher Schurr, and each homicide following isn't helping.

"Morale in policing is one of those tricky things, there’s no magic answer for how to keep morale up," Winstrom said. "It's really difficult to handle an investigation into a murder. It's extremely depressing. It's emotional."

According to the chief, 40 officers are at or nearing retirement eligibility. That's up from 25 when we spoke to him about a month ago, but he said in that time none have stepped down. There have been a few prospective officers who withdrew their application to the force following the Kent County Prosecutor's decision to charge officer Christopher Schurr with second degree murder. 

"What I’ve heard from a lot of the senior officers is they're not ready to go," he said. "They want to get the department through this tough time as officers are struggling." 

Those officers will be crucial for Winstrom's plans to curb summer violence. He's said before, and repeated in our interview Thursday, that GRPD is not the only solution, and he's hoping to lean on community partners like Cure Violence.

Following Thursday morning's double fatal shooting, he's dispatching more officers to the neighborhood — a plan he has used to respond to other shootings in the city.

"We want to make sure that we explain that and say, Hey, we see this spike in violence, you're gonna see more police officers," Winstrom said. "We want to make sure that the neighborhood understands that we're not targeting the neighborhood, we're not targeting individuals, we're there to protect them."

The Chief plans to rely on data from internal surveying and outside groups like Cure Violence and other neighborhood organizations to know where and when to increase presence and patrols. 

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