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Search concludes with new police chief

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By Becky Spaulding
Collegiate Staff Writer

As one chapter in Rebecca Whitman’s life ends, another begins – right here at Grand Rapids Community College. On Monday, January 10, she took over as chief of Campus Police, leaving her position as Captain at the Grand Rapids Police Department behind after nearly 25 years of service.

A life-long Grand Rapidian, Whitman knew before she graduated from high school that she wanted to serve and protect her city.

“I knew when I was 15 that I wanted to go into law enforcement,” she said. “My parents were supportive, but I am not sure they really thought I would go through with it.”

A graduate of Jenison High School, Whitman joined the GRPD in 1986 at the age of 19 as an intern. A year later, she was sworn in as an officer and advanced through the ranks over a career that spanned nearly 25 years.

Whitman holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Grand Valley State University, and completed North Western University’s School of Police Staff and Command in 2001. She also graduated from the FBI National Academy in Virginia in 2006.

Whitman became captain in 2004, and commanded the force’s West Side sector.

The biggest adjustment, she said, is starting over.

“When I started at the GRPD, I was very young, and I started at the bottom,” she said. “I spent almost 25 years learning something new with each assignment and new role. As I begin my career here, I have to learn from the top down, which is not always easy.”

Whitman was chosen from a large group of fellow members of the law enforcement community. According to Dr. Steven Ender, President of GRCC, a search committee, chaired by former Vice President of Finance and Administration, Bob Partridge, considered her application. Whitman knew of the possible job opening before it was officially posted, and discussed applying with her family.

“I decided to apply because of the reputation of GRCC as an employer and community partner,” she said. “Although I was happy working for GRPD and will forever be grateful for the friendships, knowledge, and experience I gained there, this opportunity came at a great time and I was fortunate to be in a position to make the career change.”

Many applicants were considered, but only four finalists were chosen to be interviewed by Dr. Ender and GRCC’s cabinet.

“(Whitman) really rose to the top,” Dr. Ender said. “I think people were really attracted to her background. She really understands the city, and we think there will be a great relationship between GRCC and the GRPD.”

“We hope she will be here for her entire career,” he added.

Cindy Kennell, the former chief of Campus Police, passed away in July after a long battle with cancer. Since then, there has been an acting chief, and the force is glad to have someone fill the position permanently, Ender said.

Whitman’s first week, also students’ first week back after Winter break, went well despite the transition, she said.

“I am enjoying my new role (at GRCC),” she said. “Everyone has been very welcoming and helpful.”

As for the future of the Campus Police, Whitman said it is too soon to discuss any changes that she will make.

“I am just trying to understand the history and current operations of both the college as a whole and the police department,” she said. “I am certain some changes will come, but only after I have had the time to fully understand current procedures.”

Despite the possibility of a tough transition, Whitman feels that there is a bright future for her at GRCC.

“I am very excited about this new challenge and I look forward to working with the men and women of GRCC’s police department, as well as the rest of the college community,” she said.