KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kentwood Police Department reached a new milestone this week.

On Monday, Jesalyn Heard became the first African American woman to be sworn-in as an officer in the department’s 51-year history, according to a Kentwood press release.

She recently graduated from Grand Rapids Community College. While there, she was on the dean’s list and earned an associate degree in criminal justice. She also completed the GRCC Police Academy in April.

In addition, Heard previously participated in the Kentwood police cadet program, which provides eligible students studying criminal justice the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the department.

“The cadet program gave me a great foundation of knowledge going into the police academy,” Heard said in a press release. “The experiences I gained helped me grasp concepts quicker and gain more insight throughout my education.”

Heard was the first cadet to go through the department’s academic sponsorship program, a release notes.

“About a year ago, the City Commission agreed to support the Kentwood Police Department’s recruiting efforts by providing an academic sponsorship program to outstanding cadets attending the police academy,” said Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen in a statement. “Jesalyn is our first recipient of that program. We’re delighted to celebrate her journey and welcome her to the team as an officer, where she’ll continue to serve the City of Kentwood and its residents with excellence.” 

Heard grew up in the Grand Rapids and Kentwood areas. She attended East Kentwood High School.

Her father serves as a sergeant with the Grand Rapids Community College Police Department and her mother works for a warden with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“When it was time to make a decision about my career, I knew Kentwood was where I needed to be. Not only because of the bonds I had created with the KPD family through the cadet program, but because of my connection to this community,” Heard said.

Heard eventually hopes to work with young people in the department’s community service bureau. She also has an interest in the special response team, which is used during critical incidents and high-risk search warrants.

“I want to speak to youth and let them know how important it is to make positive choices and that it is possible to choose a good path no matter what life has thrown their way,” Heard said. 

She lives in Grand Rapids with her fiancé and two children.