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Grand Rapids area billboards honor fallen police officers

Bruce Van Popering
Posted at 6:32 AM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 08:09:55-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Every time a police officer puts on their uniform and heads to work, they have no idea how their day will end.

But every day, those officers have promised to protect and serve their community at any cost. Now a group is trying to remember those who showed up - yet never made it home.

"He always used to take whatever time he had to dedicate to making other people happy.” Kitrina Van Popering has such fond memories of her father, a man who dedicated his life to service. "It was just what do you want to do when you grow up? I want to be a firefighter that was dad.”

Bruce Van Popering started as a firefighter, but as part of the force in East Grand Rapids, he also served as a police officer. A career he gave his life for in 1994.

"He put his uniform on he went to work and he was directing traffic on the 4th of July fireworks celebration here. And he was hit by a drunk driver. He never intended that to happen his family expected him to come home and he didn't.”

Phil Werkema is the chairman of Brothers in Blue GR, an organization that's memorializing officers who have died in the line of duty on billboards around the area. He says 21 officers have been murdered either intentionally or by accident in the Grand Rapids area since 1895 when record-keeping began.

Werkema spent 33 years with the Grand Rapids Police Department, a place where current East Grand Rapids Public Safety Chief Mark Herald also served. He says, "Police officers don't become law enforcement officers to do any harm to anybody. They want to serve their community and they want to help their community to the best of their ability, and it's always been that way. So those who have given their lives in the line of duty really need to be remembered."

For Kitrina, the movement is particularly important because she will never forget the sacrifice her father made and says he would have done it again if given the chance.

"It’s a beautiful thing, and it's not just about my dad that's being honored it's all the officers because dad didn't die because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time he was there because he was an officer doing his job. And he even laying in the hospital bed said he was glad it was him and not some little kid that got hit. Appreciating you know that gee, I took the hit so somebody else didn't have to. It was just typical for him.”

There are several digital billboards around the Grand Rapids area featuring fallen officers - and Brothers in Blue hopes to continue this program not only locally, but statewide and even nationally.