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When Grand Rapids police cruisers could carry rifles | News

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When Grand Rapids police cruisers could carry rifles
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UPDATE:  At the city commission meeting Tuesday evening, the purchase of more rifles for GRPD was given a final approval.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- Grand Rapids Police cruisers could be equipped with rifles in the coming year following a 5-2 vote Tuesday morning.

A lengthy discussion engaged Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, city commissioners and police Chief David Rahinsky as to the purchase of roughly $69,000 for 65 rifles for 59 vehicles starting as early as summer 2016.

First Ward commissioners Walt Gutowski and Dave Shaffer voted for the proposal. So, too, did Heartwell and mayor-elect Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss. Third Ward Commissioner Elias Lumpkins, Jr. also voted in favor.

The city is slated to spend an additional $230,000 on rifle ammo and officer training — money already allocated in the police budget.

"I find that something as quite divisive (as this issue) ... I'm asked about rifles," Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said during the committee meeting. She's "frustrated," arguing there's been little engagement with the community about the type of weapon being requested, plus how and when it would be used.

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly and Lenear voted against the plan, with Lenear kicking-off a spirited dialogue with Rahinsky as his presentation involved a reading of the memo submitted to the committee.

Lenear noted about 19 rifles are used by the city's special response team.

Police contend the more lethal weapons are necessary in officers' hands because that is what's already in use in the community. The rifles have a higher accuracy than the shotguns and handguns already carried, and they can penetrate a shooter's body armor, Rahinsky said.

"We heard there needs to be additional dialogue with the community, in terms of the appropriate role of these weapons," he said. "Having said that, this is a discussion that's been going on for years. ... Every other agency in West Michigan currently carries a version of a patrol rifle. 

"This will put us on even footing with the other agencies in the community. It'll also put us on even footing with the threats that we may face."

Heartwell said the "gun culture" in the U.S. necessitates officers having rifles to protect themselves and others. Gutowski agreed with such sentiment, given recent shooting incidents in Paris, San Bernardino, Calif., and elsewhere.

"I'm not willing to wait any longer," he said during the meeting.

Kelly proposed an amendment only to equip senior officers with rifles. That failed, 4-3, with Lenear and Lumpkins joining Kelly. Proponents argued they would only support the proposal in full, and police said they could not operate based on what weapons are available at any given time.

The NAACP released a statement prior to Tuesday's meeting, calling on officials to give more time to seek community input. The approved proposal again will be taken up for the possibility of a final approval Tuesday evening during the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting.


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