ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — A record number of people are taking part of Grand Valley State University’s police academy.
Of the 48 future officers, 17 will patrol neighborhoods as part of the Grand Rapids Police Department, Kent County Sheriff’s Department, Grand Haven Public Safety or Muskegon City Police Department.
The remaining are still looking for work, but they shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a job.
A surge in hiring in the ’90s has resulted in a slew of retirements that are expected to continue for the next few years.
The record number of recruits comes despite the ongoing public perception issues faced by law enforcement.
But could that be a driving force for some?
“The reason I went into law enforcement in 1994 was because I had a negative interaction with an officer,” said Billy Wallace, director of GVSU’s Criminal Justice Training Program. “I was treated inappropriately by a law enforcement officer. I thought I could do a better job myself, and that’s what motivated me.”
Wallace says despite issues facing law enforcement, there’s also a passion for serving the community driving many of these recruits.
“Years ago, there was probably a big commitment to the profession,” Wallace said. “I think now there’s a big commitment to the community,”
Blake Walton, who is black, is among the 11 recruits who will become a Grand Rapids officer after graduation.
Walton says he is enthused about the job and realistic about the challenges, especially as a person of color in uniform.
“I definitely understand what’s happening with law enforcement. I’ve been stopped before,” Walton, who grew up in Wyoming, said. “I just hope with each interaction that I have with individuals will shed a better light on officers in general, and especially as a member of the black community.”
While the academy set a record this year, 48 recruits compared to the 43 last year, the percentages were not as good when it comes to recruits who look more like the community they serve.
This year’s class is made of 32 white males, 11 white females, two Hispanic men and three African American men.
The smaller 2018 class produced six minority graduates, and seven minority recruits graduated in 2017‘s class of 40.
“We can’t say there’s one thing that would increase the number of people wanting to come into the profession or the number of minorities wanting to come into the profession,” Wallace said.
While the police, minority community divide is an obvious reason, Wallace says there also needs to be more of an effort to show the benefits of policing, such as pay, stability and personal fulfillment.
Wallace says the message can’t just come from within law enforcement.
“Media, law enforcement, community leaders all need to work together to talk about the benefits of the profession and why it could be good for young people to come into it,” Wallace said.
The recruits are set to graduate in mid-August. After that, they’ll begin field training with the department they’ve hired on to.
More information can be found online.