By Kayla Tucker – Editor-in-Chief
The first memorial to the fallen officers and alumni of Grand Rapids Community College’s Police Academy was dedicated Thursday at the DeVos Campus.
The names of Bruce Van Popering, Eric Zapata and Robert Kozminski are etched into the memorial, along with a Bible verse and the academy logo. Families, friends, community members, GRCC staff and local police officers attended the event.
Bruce Van Popering graduated from GRCC in 1985. He was killed in 1994 after being struck by a vehicle while directing traffic. He was an officer with the East Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety.
Robert Kozminski was an officer with the Grand Rapids Police Department and graduated from GRCC in 1999. He was shot and killed in 2007.
Eric Zapata, a GRCC graduate in 1999, was an officer with the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department. He was shot and killed in 2011.
The ceremony began with the posting of the flags on either side of the memorial, and the singing of the national anthem.
“It’s wonderful that people still honor and remember the men and women who’ve given their lives,” said Richard Kozminski, father of the late Robert Kozminski.
“I really hope that the families know that we will continue to love on them,” said Nikki Banks, criminal justice department head. “It’s our ultimate prayer that not another name goes on that (memorial).”
Banks said she felt humbled by the ceremony.
“It just really goes to show the seriousness of this work,” Banks said. “We don’t take it light(ly) when someone in our profession gives their life for this work.”
Banks recalled a discussion with her students in class earlier that day.
“Not everyone wakes up and goes into a field knowing that they may have to lay their lives down,” Banks said. “Yet they keep coming back to class and they seek to graduate … They’re cut from a different cloth.”
Police Academy Director Jodi Richhart said she had the idea for the memorial when she was attending Zapata’s funeral four years ago with the 2011 recruit class.
“As we were ushered into the large auditorium with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of police officers, I could feel the pride and the honor bestowed on them to be apart of this amazing law enforcement community,” Richhart said to the crowd. “They were attending funeral for a fallen brother, someone they had never met, but who had come from the same place, and who had given the same oath that they would do just a few months later.”
GRCC President Steven Ender thanked Richhart, and said he was proud to have the memorial in place.
“While we are proud that they have achieved their goal to create this memorial, we wish there was no reason for one,” Ender said to the crowd. “But as the recent events at Umpqua Community College illustrate, no corner of the world is safe from violence and we are mindful that our police academy is training students who will be asked to meet and protect us from these dangers.”
That same day, 32 cadets graduated from the GRCC Police Academy.