Police, city officials to host open discussions

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 12, 2015

With names like “Ferguson” and “Baltimore” etched on the nation’s collective conscious, debate over racial profiling and excessive force has forced a divide in many communities between police officers and the public they are charged with protecting.

Far removed from the protests erupting in other parts of the country, the leadership of the Dowagiac Police Department is looking to open a dialog with the very residents they and their officers serve, every hour and every day of the year.

Over the next two weeks, Director of Public Safety Steve Grinnewald and Deputy Chief Jarrid Bradford, along with other city leaders, will be conducting a series of community meetings throughout the city.

The idea is to offer an opportunity to answer questions and to listen to concerns from area residents. These gatherings will take place:

• 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19, at Dowagiac Union High School, 701 W. Prairie Ronde St. (Ward 1)

• 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, at Federated Covenant Church, 202 Center St. (Ward 2)

• 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 603 McCleary St. (Ward 3)

The two police officials have discussed holding these open meetings since assuming their current roles nearly two years ago, in order to both introduce themselves to the greater community and to determine how best they can serve the public, Grinnewald said. With a growing mistrust in police occurring in other parts of the country, the police chief decided that now was a good as time as many to make these discussions a priority, he said.

“We decided now is the time to get out and meet with the public, to build a relationship and get on the same page,” Grinnewald said.

At each meeting, the officers provide some background about themselves and what services they provide to the public. After that, they will open the discussion up for the people in attendance, who will be free to share their questions, thoughts, opinions and concerns about the community and about how they perceive the members of police department.

While the chief feels that the public and police in Dowagiac share similar goals and interests, the department can’t keep falling back on existing goodwill, and must continue building on it, Grinnewald said. Departments that fail to listen to the public become out of touch with them, leading to the mistrust and unrest seen in other parts of the nation, he said.

“We don’t have that relationship now, and don’t want that to happen in the future,” Grinnewald said.

Working with city council to establish the meetings, the department will hold a meeting in each of the three city wards, though residents from any part of the city will be allowed to participate on any date.

“Everyone is on board, and now we’re just working to get the word out,” Grinnewald said. “Hopefully we’ll get people to come out and get some discussion going back and forth.”

Depending on the success of these events this month, the department could start hosting them on an annual basis, Grinnewald said.