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Viewing the Grand Rapids Police Department as a volunteer

My view of the Grand Rapids Police Department changed once I got involved.
A day on the road as a GRPD Community Volunteer

A day on the road as a GRPD Community Volunteer /J Lemmon

A few years ago, I was listening to all the commentary on police departments and community relations around the country, and I decided to not just rely on journalists' accounts of the issues; I decided to get involved and find some answers to questions myself.

As a first step, I applied and was accepted into the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy. The academy is held annually and approximately 20 citizens are accepted into the program. There really are no requirements other than you must be 18 years of age and live within the City of Grand Rapids.

Our group spent 10 weeks, one night a week for 4-5 hours, exploring virtually every facet of the department’s policies, procedures, and operations. We discussed many of the issues facing police officers today, and no questions went unanswered. As the officers in charged stated, it was a “look behind the curtain,” and to my surprise, they were very willing to take the hard questions from the class and frankly discuss them.

Participants also engaged with real-world scenarios and hands-on activities, including among many other things, a take-down by the K-9-unit dog, an active shooter simulation, and an overnight ride-along with an officer on duty. I saw what officers on the street deal with every day. The unknowns that every call for help brings -- the fights, the domestic abuse complaints, the shootings, the knifings, the raw danger they face, the judgment calls they need to make. With each call, the officer never knew for sure what we were walking into.

I can’t say enough about this experience; it gave me a new-found understanding of what the department and its officers deal with on a day-to-day basis.   

While the academy was a learning experience and helped me form a deeper appreciation of the department, I decided to take it one more step and get further involved. In the academy sessions, I learned about a variety of opportunities to help the department and the community, and I chose to become involved as a neighborhood Community Service Volunteer.

Community Service Volunteers have a hands-on opportunity to aid citizens and officers in resolving non-criminal/non-life-threatening issues. After undergoing a rigorous background investigation and training, volunteers are assigned to be on the road once or twice a week with another volunteer for 4 to 8-hour shifts, driving about the city in a CSV van and assisting citizens and officers wherever they can. 

On a typical shift, we make wellness visits to disabled or senior citizens, conduct security checks on houses when owners are out of town, tag abandoned vehicles, enforce parking laws, remove signs on parkways and street poles, report graffiti and pot holes, and retrieve found property. Our assistance allows officers to focus on more urgent matters. And no…. volunteers do not get a gun or a Taser, but we do get a nice uniform and a radio, and a real sense of being part of something that is important to our community.

It has only been 5 weeks since I have been on the road, but the experience has been amazing including some very interesting citizen interactions. People are genuinely grateful for the help we bring to their neighborhood, whether it is getting graffiti removed, flagging an abandoned vehicle they have reported, or picking up found property.

If I had not gotten involved in the Grand Rapids Police Department, my opinion would be very narrow, formed from the perspective from someone else, a journalist or a blogger, not from what I have been able to experience first-hand, whether it is talking with an officer or with a citizen on the street.

I learned a couple of lessons from this experience; in the future, before I form opinions, I will work to get involved so I know what I am talking about. I’ve also learned there is far more to the Grand Rapids Police Department than I originally thought, and there are bridges to build in our community that an average citizen like me can help with.

If you want to get involved with the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Community Service Volunteer program visit GRPD Police Volunteer Program for more information and for contact information at the GRPD.

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