GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — Driver's education used to be a free part of high school. Now, it's anything but.
"The cost from start to finish, not including paying for extra hours can be almost 1,000 dollars to get a kid through driver's ed,” Grand Rapids Police Officer Learned said.
It's a problem GRPD Officer Learned noticed at the Steil location of the Boys and Girls Club, when a young employee had a hard time getting to work on time because of the bus schedule.
They didn't have their license. That got Learned talking to officers Erickson and Sanders stationed at the other Boys and Girls Clubs. The high costs for driver's ed was a barrier between teenagers and driving that they noticed across the city.
So the three got to work to try to find a way to get more of their kids into driver's training.
“Being able to use them for jobs, sporting activities, just the confidence driving gives you as a teen,” Learned said.
Enter Century Driving School. They offered up a teacher and to cover the costs for six students at the clubs to take driver's education. The City of Grand Rapids approved, and so did the police department.
“It’s been seemingly easy. Because it’s such a great program,” GRPD officer Erickson said.
Students won't just be trained on how to drive. The officers say they plan to use this as a chance to help teach the kids they see every day at the club about police protocol when they're eventually on the road or find themselves stopped by police.
“We’re able to bring the idea of the procedure as to why we do our job. So that way, if they do encounter us when they’re driving, they have a better understanding of where we’re coming from. Hopefully, it will alleviate some of the tensions,” Erickson said.
It's a way to lend a hand back to the club Officer Sanders once attended.
“Police procedure, that people don’t understand. I think police work should be transparent. This is definitely a way to make it," Officer Sanders said.
Sanders says after looking at the data within the department, the issues between officers and the public are happening most often at traffic stops. The officers says their hope is this starts a conversation, so everyone can improve, together.
“This is the time to build bridges. This is the time to bring the human aspect back into police work,” Sanders said.
The department says they're hoping to have much more than six students in the future, and can't wait for them to leave the Secretary of State's office, license in hand.
Class starts on April 12, 2021.