Police chief leads an effort to unite Grand Ledge amid national movement to address racism

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Grand Ledge Police Chief Thomas Osterholzer is leading an effort between the police department and community members to address equality, equity and inclusion issues in the city. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Grand Ledge City Council asked Osterholzer to form a committee to look at racism and injustice within the city. The committee, now formally known as Grand Ledge United, was formed by Osterholzer and co-chairs Jon Horford and Rachel Kuntzsch in June. The committee is made up of different groups and diverse members of the community. 

Osterholzer said he believes there are always tensions between some groups within the city. However, after speaking to members of the Black community in Grand Ledge, he said he doesn’t see a lot of racial tensions between residents and the city’s police.

“I don’t think they feel targeted by the police but they have certainly expressed that they don’t always feel welcome in Grand Ledge as a whole,” Osterholzer said. “When we look at what is going on in our country with racism and systemic racism as a whole, obviously law enforcement is at the heart of that.” 

Osterholzer has 28 years of experience working in Genesee County, which includes majority Black Flint, which he said prepared him to form Grand Ledge United. 

“I was used to being comfortable with uncomfortable conversations regarding racism and law enforcement,” Osterholzer said. 

Horford, a co-chair of the effort, has previous experience volunteering and working closely with his community. He said he joined Grand Ledge United out of a desire to help people feel more welcome in this city. 

Horford said the organization is working closely with the police department to build trust with minority communities. He said one way to work toward that goal is by holding police officers responsible for any crimes they may commit. 

“Finding ways to actually hold them accountable that will bring that trust and respect back to law enforcement is tough,” Horford said. “Not that they are blatantly disrespected. I mean they are in a lot of ways, but the profession as a whole has done a lot to earn that reputation. Like the videos we see of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, George Floyd — there are just so many instances where what they did was not right and those people should be held accountable for the crimes they have committed, but they’re just not.” 

Osterholzer said one thing he has been focusing on to strengthen the relationship between police and the community is making the right hiring decisions. 

“Hiring the right candidates from the start is critical for having a police department and solid relationships with the community,” Osterholzer said. “You have to identify a quality candidate but also one that fits for your department and your community. We have had vacancies for awhile now, but we are not just going to fill them to put a body in that spot. They have to be right for our community and reach our high standards. It’s on us as leaders to hold people accountable to those high standards.” 

Osterholzer also said that a lot of the officers he knows in Grand Ledge and elsewhere are committed to fixing this problem. 

“Allow us to be part of the solution,” Osterholzer said. “This is part of my mission as the chief of police and I think that all starts with having honest conversations and building relationships and that is where Grand Ledge United comes in.” 

The need for community awareness of inequalities and injustices in Grand Ledge increased after former Grand Ledge Public Schools Superintendent Brian Metcalf wrote a post on Facebook placing blame on Floyd for his own killing. Metcalf was fired.

Kuntzsch, a co-chair of Grand Ledge United, has lived in Grand Ledge for 22 years and she said she has both a professional and personal interest in making the city a better place. Kuntzsch said she believes to strengthen the relationship between the police department and the community, everyone in the community must recognize that an issue exists. 

“I don’t think there is a perception by white people in our community that there is a problem,” Kuntzsch said. “There are a lot of people who haven’t even conceptualized things like our privilege or what systemic racism really means. There’s a process to get people educated.  That’s a big part of our focus.” 

Kuntzsch suggested residents look at posts on Grand Ledge United’s Facebook page to gain information about diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“Getting educated is critical and then using that information as tools to engage in dialogue with others to be informed so that when a conversation goes a certain direction, an individual can offer a perspective based on facts and solid information,” Kuntzsch said. “So much of the time, white people are uncomfortable talking about issues of race. We need to accept that we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable if we are going to make a change. Living in that discomfort and having hard conversations with people of color and especially with white people is really important for making change not just locally but globally.”

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