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'Real Cop' tells it like it is
 John Cavanagh  / 

The career of a police officer is steeped in service and dedication to public safety. Each day varies widely, and transitioning to retirement is not without its own set of struggles.

These are the very reasons that led retired Grand Rapids police officer David Leonard to recently published a memoir, “Real Cop: A Memoir of a Career Street Officer”. In his book, he shares his 27-year career as a first responder, as well as the challenges he faced when he retired to Walkerville in 2017. His objective was to provide “an unvarnished look at policing in America today through the eyes of a career street officer, to serve as an advocate for the patrol officer, but also to inform the public of how policing stands and how those serving in their neighborhood view the profession.”

Leonard found that little has been written about the average street cop, as opposed to the undercover cop, the brilliant detective, various police specialists like SWAT Team members, or crime scene investigators. While the role of police officer is sometimes depicted as glamorous on television and in the movies, the patrol officer is really the backbone of the police department.

These officers are the first to respond to every call, and may answer thousands of citizens’ calls for service over the course of their career. They may assist school children at a crossing, respond to a traffic accident, break up a domestic dispute or deal with an armed gunman, all in one shift. As Leonard explained, the life of a street cop is actually “hours of boredom, punctuated by pure terror.”

In writing his memoir, Leonard also tried to address the current public perception of police officers, which has been negatively influenced by media reports, including edited video accounts presented without context, resulting in accusations of racial profiling. “I think there are people who live in very difficult situations – of every ethnicity and race – and they often misdirect their frustrations with their plight to the wrong cause, place blame on the wrong entity. Currently, that’s happening with the police,” Leonard said.

In addition, he shared some changes that have occurred in policing methods that have contributed to an altered public perception of police, including trends toward judging officer performance based on a statistical model of arrests and tickets rather than a more community-friendly approach. He believes this type of “piece-rate” policing to appease management has fractured police-community relations. “This takes a toll on the officer emotionally, physically, socially and sometimes spiritually,” Leonard said.

“Real Cop” includes many interesting stories from Leonard’s career as a street officer, but one account carries particular impact, that being the bookending of two events involving a single person Leonard arrested early in his career and then met again on one of the last days of his service.

Josiah Ward was a suspect in a homicide Leonard investigated in 1998. Ward attempted to explain the death of his girlfriend as a suicide, but evidence ultimately proved it was a homicide. As a first responder to the incident, Leonard noted, “it was kind of a ‘coming of age’ call for me,” because preservation of the crime scene as a first responder was key to making the case, which relied so heavily on blood splatter and other forensic evidence. Ultimately, Ward pleaded guilty to second degree murder.

Then, on Dec. 26, 2016, just before Leonard’s retirement, he met Ward again on a routine disabled vehicle call. Ward had served his time and was back in Grand Rapids visiting family, ironically at his grandfather’s home across the street from the original crime scene. Ward’s nearly new car broke down, and during the time Leonard and Ward spent together while waiting for the vehicle to be towed, Leonard came to realize that Ward, a rough customer with anger problems in 1998, had made a tremendous conversion to good.

Leonard was deeply touched by this encounter, and believes that a higher power was involved in bringing him together with Ward again, right when he was burned out and discouraged and nearing the end of his time as a police officer. “It just seemed to be an act of God trying to close one door before the next one opened by putting my mind at ease about one of my most pressing cases,” Leonard said.

Unlike many street officers, it was never Leonard’s goal to seek promotion in the department, perhaps because of his humble beginnings. He was born and raised in Grand Rapids in an unpretentious working-class, Irish-Lithuanian family. After graduating from Wyoming Park High School, he went to community college and then received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Grand Valley Community College and attended the Grand Valley Police Academy there. He spent a year and a half as a Deputy sheriff in Montcalm County and then worked for the Grand Rapids Police Department for the remainder of his career.

He always felt he had something to give others, and he refers to his choice to become a police officer as a kind of “calling” – perhaps not the same as, but similar to the call to service received by a priest or minister or someone in the military. As a result, instead of seeking promotion in the police department, he decided to serve as a union steward, and ultimately president of the independent police union, the Grand Rapids Police Officers Labor Council (GRPOLC), in hopes that he could make a difference in the lives of the average first responder. “Growing up, I related most to the blue collar workers, the hard hat/lunch pail guys. I really gravitated toward trying to make sure that guys like those were represented and given a fair shake.”

He recounted that one of his greatest challenges in working for the union was getting laid-off patrol officers back to work after the recession in 2010. To do this, he proposed a city income tax increase to the city commission, fortunately, with the backing of the city manager. This was a tough sell when there were so many layoffs in the city and unemployment was so high generally, but the public supported the increase, and the union was successful in getting its officers back to work.

Serving the union was like working two full-time jobs, and with the weight of many conflicts with police management on behalf of the union, Leonard experienced significant burn-out at the end of his career, as do many street cops. He noted that, like combat veterans, 34 percent of today’s frontline police officers show symptoms of PTSD because of the cumulative effects of experiencing traumatic death, serious injury, internal politics and other job stressors. Among first responders, the incidence of divorce, alcoholism, and most recently, suicide have increased. Leonard himself suffered significant depression. While police departments are getting better at providing resources to deal with these matters, they continue to affect those who live with the stressors on a daily basis.

In retirement Leonard found that symptoms of depression he had experienced earlier in his career were reignited by the lack of purpose and identity he encountered in retirement, and he looked unsuccessfully for books and articles written by others who shared his struggle. Though he enjoyed working to improve his Walkerville property, and hunting and fishing there for relaxation, he ultimately decided that writing and publishing his own memoir might provide some needed direction.

“Writing the book and the positive reception it’s gotten has reinvigorated a sense of purpose again. I’m enjoying that,” Leonard said. He hopes his memoir will provide a positive resource for his fellow officers and perhaps help them avoid some of the issues he experienced. Currently, he is promoting his book through TV and radio interviews, book signings, and most recently a visit to the Grand Valley Police Training Academy, which is considering offering the book as a guide for new recruits.

Tractor Supply to open in spring in former Shopko building
 John Cavanagh  / 

HART — Renovations and remodeling have been taking place in the former Shopko building on Comfort Drive in Hart since December where a new Tractor Supply Company store is set to open sometime this spring, said company spokesperson Abby Brown. “This is one of more than 80 new stores that will open in 2020. Tractor Supply is the largest ‘rural lifestyle’ retailer in the US and serves as a one-stop shop for recreational farmers, ranchers and all those who enjoy living the rural lifestyle. Our stores offer an extensive mix of products necessary to care for home, land, pets and animals,” Brown said.

According to the company’s website, the company was founded as a mail-order tractor parts business in 1938. By 1939 the business opened its first retail location in Minot, N.D.. The company now boasts over 1,800 retail outlets in 49 states as well as an e-commerce website. Today, Tractor Supply Company stores offer nearly everything for rural living, except tractors. Instead its focus now is helping people maintain their farms, homes and animals. Products available will include clothing, equine and pet supplies, tractor parts/accessories, lawn/garden supplies, sprinkler/irrigation parts, power tools, fencing, welding/pump supplies and riding lawn mowers.

Tractor Supply Company takes pride in “being there” for its neighbors. Among many other benefits available for veterans, the company offers two Veterans Days each year, where veterans, active military and their families receive a 15 percent discount. They also support local youth through 4-H, Future Farmers of America program and offer various scholarship programs. An “Out Here with Animals” event has been hosted annually since 2018 that features all things pet related and is intended to raise awareness regarding the importance of proper pet care and provide access to and information about pet adoptions.

Further information about the company can be found at https://corporate.tractorsupply.com.

Grant Township targets roads for upgrades
 John Cavanagh  / 

GRANT TWP. – The township board has selected three road projects for 2020, and will probably ask voters to renew a road millage again this year to fund future projects.

The board selected the road projects at its meeting last Tuesday.

Grant Township has already committed to pave Tahoe Trail at Lake Tahoe at an estimated cost of $37,650. The other two road projects are a 2,475 foot stretch of Tonawanda Trail, also at Lake Tahoe, and a mile long stretch of 72nd Avenue from Webster Road to Winston Road. The Tonawanda Trail project is at an estimate of $105,300. It includes crush and shape the base and a three-inch layer of paving. The 72nd Avenue is a 2 1/2 inch overlay. It is estimated to cost $154,870.

Township Supervisor Roger Schmidt said the township has $312,587 to fund road projects after the already committed Tahoe Trail project. The funds come from road millage and the general fund.

However, a fourth road project, a stretch of Webster Road, or 108th Avenue between Cleveland Road and Wilke Road, would exceed the available funding.

Adding a fourth project would bring the cost up from $373,000 to $413,000, the supervisor added.

Schmidt said the cost estimates came from the Oceana County Road Commission. He said the estimates all came over budget. “They estimated the high cost of asphalt.”

“Tonawanda is kind of a travesty,” Township Trustee Jim Aebig said. Aebig made the motion to move forward with the Tonawanda Trail and 72nd Avenue projects.” That motion passed 4-0.

Aebig said the township doesn’t have enough funds to keep up with maintaining the roads.

“Just when you think you’re catching up ... We need the millage.”

The township, since 2014, has levied two mills on property taxes for road repair. Voters have approved the millage three times, with two-year time periods.

Schmidt placed on Tuesday’s agenda, a discussion on asking for a fourth renewal of a two-year, two-mill proposal for road projects. However, he removed it from the agenda because the proposal language is not available. “We need to know the (township’s) taxable value and that won’t be available until April 1,” he said. Schmidt expects the board will act on a road millage proposal at its April 7 meeting.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting the township board approved a bid for brining gravel roads in the township this year. The bid of $11,620 was submitted by Michigan Chloride Sales who has brined the roads in the township the past three years.

Schmidt said the bid is slightly higher, but it includes two brining applications to keep the dust down, instead of just one.