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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Grand Rapids to study profiling in police traffic stops

Mariano Avila

The City of Grand Rapids held a community meeting last night to announce the start of a study determining whether or not the Grand Rapids Police Department’s traffic stops show racial bias. 

City officials introduced Lamberth Consulting, hired to determine if the Grand Rapids Police Department is racially profiling during traffic stops. The study will take three years of traffic data and compare them with this year’s data. Here’s Jerry Clayton, their vice president, defending their methodology.

“First off we have to make contact with the police department and explain to them what data we’re looking for and in what form. And then hopefully the police department has collected the data in the appropriate form. Then we talk to the police department about the locations that we’re going to do the benchmarks. And the important thing to understand is we concentrate on the high volume of traffic stops in a particular area.”

The study is one of the city’s 12-points on a plan to improve police relations with communities of color. Working to implement it is City Manager Greg Sundstrom.

“We think that if we keep taking these positive steps that we can make significant change for racial equity.”

If the report comes back showing no systemic profiling, Sundstrom says the city will focus on recommendations for improvement. But if it comes back with bias?

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves, we’ll have a lot of serious work to do.”

Clayton from Lamberth says that work could involve everything from redesigning academy training to looking at which officers are rewarded.

“Is it the one that does the most traffic stops, makes the most arrests, gets the most drugs and guns off the streets? Or is it the one that engages the community, that works with the community on root causes, issues that improve quality of life?”   

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
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