GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Police Department is hoping to recruit talent from the city to work there, hosting two hiring open houses in the community in coming weeks at area parks.
Grand Rapids Police Officer J'avon Sanders first met a GRPD officer when he was nine, when he needed help.
"Someone had broken into our house. Stole my Playstation 2," Sanders said "The officer came in. He was real respectful. I could tell he loved his job, he just wanted to help. So ever since then, I knew that's what I wanted to do.
GRPD police officer Joe Drelles met his first officer, as so many do, in elementary school.
"School crossing guard," Drelles said. "Back then they had police officers on safety on motorcycles."
Both Sanders and Drelles come from places you'll recognize.
Sanders was raised between Fulton Street and Lake Drive, by a Mom who did it all herself.
"Born and raised, single mom kinda thing," Sanders said. "Went to GRPS, Grand Rapids public schools...growing up in america. As a young African American male. It was tough. And she recognized that. She was real tough on me."
Sergeant Drelles lived near Kalamazoo Avenue and 36th Street. He was an intern at GRPD, and it paid his way through the academy.
But when it came time to serve his hometown, the recession hit.
"One thing lead to another," Sergeant Drelles said. "Beggars can't be choosers. I really wanted to be a police officer."
After years as an officer in Phoenix, he still had that same old pride for his hometown.
J'avon never left. A student at Grand Rapids Central, then Grand Valley State, GRPD sponsored him through the academy.
He credits his Mom to his need to serve.
"I'm from here, my wife's from here," Sanders said. "My Mom was real tough on me. Tougher on me than she was my sister. Which I didn't understand. But I understand now."
When it came time to do something with his life, J'avon knew it had to be something to give back to the next young man like him. He knew he wanted to be a cop at nine years old, but didn't tell everyone.
"Growing up in the inner city, it's kinda tough to tell your friends you want to be a police officer," Sanders said. "You get frowned upon, people tell you no, you can't do it."
That old sense of pride crept in for Drelles too.
"To be able to come back and police my hometown, is something I'd always wanted to do. I didn't know if I'd be able to do it," Drelles said.
For Sanders, it's about setting an example.
"Being an influencer I guess with the younger kids. Showing them that you don't have to do what everyone says you should do. You can do whatever you want," Sanders said.
Sanders and Drelles are well aware of the current climate and scrunity surrounding policing, especially in the last year or so, but are confident more people will still join the profession.
Those open houses in the community are at Mulick Park from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, and at Richmond Park from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
Recruiters and the community engagement unit will be at both parks, to answer questions for those interested.