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GRPD Chief Eric Payne announces retirement plans

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Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne has announced plans to retire in early 2022, after more than three decades in uniform.

The public decision comes after Payne informed City Manager Mark Washington of his intentions to leave. In a statement, Payne cites time with family among the reasons for his departure.

“When I took this position, I was clear with the community, the City Manager, and – most importantly – my family, I had a clear set of goals I wanted to accomplish but that this was going to be a three-to-five-year assignment,” Payne said.

Payne first came to Grand Rapids to attend school at Grand Valley State University and joined the Grand Rapids Police Department in 1987. He worked his way through the organization before being selected by Washington to lead GRPD in July of 2019, becoming the first African American chief in the department’s history.

During his time at the helm, Payne instituted reforms in neighborhood policing models, a victim assistance unit, an officer mental health position, use of force procedures and co-response efforts in a Homeless Outreach Team.

The year 2020 brought Payne challenges as he led the department through the COVID-19 Pandemic, the city's deadliest year totaling 38 homicides and a controversial climate with mass demands for police reform.

On May 30, 2020, following a national outcry against racism and police brutality, a community demonstration turned into a public unrest in downtown Grand Rapids. Hundreds were tear-gassed and numerous businesses were damaged. Protests continued throughout the summer of 2020, during one Payne knelt alongside demonstrators. He went on to lead the department through its first-ever community informed strategic plan, aimed at community policing.

“I came into the job with an idea of what I wanted to do. Community-policing, enhancing training and accountability measures on diversity and inclusion, ensuring we were a values-based organization that matched those of the people we serve. In many ways I was already taking the department in this direction before the events of last year,” Payne said, “I think that made it easier to have some of the tough conversations other communities might have struggled with and it certainly helped in writing our Department Strategic Plan because the community reaffirmed, we all wanted the same things.”

In a statement City Manager, Mark Washington, thanked Chief Payne for his work.

“The last few years have been challenging for law enforcement nationally, and Grand Rapids hasn’t been immune to that, but I can’t imagine a better person to help us navigate this moment than Eric Payne,” Washington said, “His commitment to the people of this community and his officers has been a guiding force as we worked to reimagine public safety in this City.”

The advance notice of Payne’s retirement is expected to help in the transition of a new Chief of Police. Washington said he will engage with the community, stakeholders and police department staff to “determine what this community desires in our next Police Chief” before making an appointment.

“That person is going to have big shoes to fill,” Washington said.

A process to fill the position will is expected to be announced in the coming months.