By Sean Chase
After joining the Grand Rapids Community College Police and Corrections Training Academy as an assistant professor in 2014, Jermaine Reese left his mark on every facet of the college’s criminal justice program. However, on Sept. 4, he will be stepping away.
Growing up in Flint after the automotive boom of the 1950s, Reese didn’t always dream of becoming a police officer.
“Initially, because my dad worked in the shop, the push, the focus was always on doing something in the automotive industry,” Reese said. “So it was either engineering or something of that nature. Initially, I was going to go to school for engineering, but I always had this desire to be around and study people, so it was either engineering or psychology.”
During his time at Flint Northwestern High School, Reese dabbled in a variety of sports outside of school, recreationally playing basketball and wrestling, however football reigned supreme in his heart.
“I dabbled in basketball once I started growing in height, but football was always my love,” Reese said.
After coming to the realization wrestling and basketball weren’t for him, Reese made his presence felt on the football field, playing on the offensive and defensive line, as well as punting for a year during his time with the Wildcats. Due to an injury, Reese’s time in a Flint Northwestern jersey was cut short.
The opportunities to continue his football career didn’t materialize. When he graduated in 1990, Reese took a job and enrolled at Mott Community College to knock out his general courses. However, his love for football continued to burn. Little did he know, his time as a wrestler would help him lace up the cleats once again, this time at Eastern Michigan University.
“Prior to going to Eastern, I had that desire to go back and start playing football again, at that higher level,” Reese said. “In high school, I broke my femur, and so wrestling with the mental stigma, that you could play again. Once I got over that, and realized I never really lost the desire to play, I reached out to their coaching staff there to see what their process was, and what scholarships were available and what not. I talked to the wrestling coach, and he forwarded my information to (L.C. Cole), who, once (Cole) was hired by Eastern Michigan, wound up calling me. I was going to school part-time at Mott Community college, and working as a security guard. Coming home one day, my mom told me a Coach Cole had called.”
After a visit to Ypsilanti, Reese was committed to Eastern’s football team, where he suited up for the Eagles from 1993-95. Once again, injuries derailed Reese’s football dream, sending him back home. Upon returning to Flint, Reese continued playing football at the semi-professional level, unknowingly for a team coached by a Flint police officer, as the Flint PD was conducting a massive community policing hiring campaign.
“At one point, I was going to pursue the Canadian Football League, but whereas professional football would have been a dream come true, that wasn’t always my primary focus,” Reese said. “So when law enforcement, when that opportunity came about, that became my priority. Now when I went back to school it was to better myself for that profession.”
With this newfound focus, Reese went back to Mott CC, transferring his credits from EMU, where he earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice, joining the City of Flint Police Department as a patrol officer. After patrolling the streets where he was raised for two and a half years, Reese transferred to the narcotics unit as an undercover officer, where he spent three years, during which he met his wife Kimberly. Because of their different schedules, Reese decided to return to patrol.
In 2002, while working for the Flint PD, Reese felt the call to ministry, becoming an ordained minister.
“People always ask that question, ‘it seems like there is this conflict of interest,’ but there’s not,” Reese said when asked about preaching and policing in the same community. “When you think about it, policing and when you think about ministry or religion, regardless of whatever religious views a person has, they are service-oriented. They’re looking at the individual, or they’re looking at groups of people, ‘(the goal is) how do you help that person in their time of need.’ When you think about spirituality, that’s basically the same principle, they’re the same thing.”
Though most departments prohibit officers from fraternizing with convicted criminals, diving into his spirituality has brought Reese across a variety of people from different backgrounds, which Reese said has helped change his worldview.
“When you think about a church, people come from all walks of life,” Reese said. “You’re gonna have people who were formerly incarcerated, and most departments forbid you from having relationships with convicted felons, but in a church setting or in a religious setting, whereas that person may not be coming over to the house for dinner, you’re still exposed to people who in my mind at one point, ‘if you did something and you were incarcerated, you were guilty, therefore you were bad,’ but there are a lot of good people who have been wrongly convicted.
Reese credits his involvement in the ministry for his evolution as a police officer, saying contact with a wide range of people exposed him to the nuances of life. This exposure fueled Reese’s desire to improve policing and help others. This was noticed while he was finishing up his bachelor’s degree from Spring Arbor University. With the belief of a few professors, Reese began to contemplate his future after the police force.
“A couple of my professors, I don’t know what they saw in me, but one instructor told me if I ever ran for sheriff he would run my campaign for me, then I had another professor who told me I would make an excellent teacher, and so that would be a career path I should think about,” Reese said. “At that time, I was thinking more K-12, because you don’t have a lot of African American men now as teachers. I remember growing up in elementary school and middle school, having some but not a whole lot. I always knew, because I was hired into the police department when I was 24, that when I reached the age of retirement, I would need to do something else.”
One of those professors, Arthur Busch, former Genesee County Prosecutor, tried to guide Reese into law school. However, Reese didn’t want to continue enduring the stressors of the legal system, and then it hit him.
“When I saw (Busch) as a professor, and then there were other individuals, Art Evans and a couple of other folks, that were former law enforcement, but now they were teaching at a community college, that clicked,” Reese said. “I said, ‘you know what, instead of me going K-12, why not teach at a community college or a four-year university.’ Then I realized, because of the stresses with law enforcement, I didn’t want to go into law, you’re still in the same field, you’re just trading stresses. So I decided that I would go back and get my master’s degree, so that way I could teach.”
After receiving his master’s degree from Tiffin University in 2013, Reese briefly taught at the University of Phoenix, before landing at GRCC as an assistant professor of criminal justice in 2014. By Aug. 2016, Reese was named as GRCC’s Corrections Academy Coordinator. Less than a year later, GRCC merged two positions, Corrections Academy Coordinator and Police Academy Director, naming Reese Director of the Police and Corrections Training Academies.
“I’ve had a tremendous experience here at GRCC, it’s a great place to work, it’s a great place to live, I love the students, the interaction, but when I came here my goal was to teach full time,” Reese said. “Our plan isn’t always the plan, we think we’re in control but not really, and so when I came it was to teach full-time. I knew they had a police academy, but that was the furthest thing, I just wanted to teach, that was my passion, and it still is.”
Because of his passion to return to the classroom, in April 2021, Reese informed GRCC President Bill Pink and Provost Brian Knetl that he would be leaving GRCC on Sept. 4.
“It’s a loss for us, because we know any position on this campus, mine included, every position on this campus can be replaced, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do so,” Pink said. “Director Reese is one of those individuals, that while all of us have to wear our own shoes and make our own footprint, his shoes are big when it comes to this institution. I will tell you when I heard about it a few months ago, it was a bit disheartening to me, because of the respect I have for him as our director, and the respect I have for him as an instructor and a professional.”
With Reese’s new position at Henry Ford Community College beginning in the fall, his commitment to the current class of GRCC Police Academy cadets, which graduate on Aug. 27, motivated him to finish their training.
“We’ve got 34 young men and young women, and I felt committed to them,” Reese said. “They felt enough drive and passion to come through GRCC’s program. They started back in September, with their physical training. They started the actual academy in January, and I didn’t want to leave mid-stream and leave them without a leader. When I told them, I said, ‘we started this together, we’ll finish it.’”
GRCC conducted an internal search, however it didn’t yield any candidates. According to Pink, the search for Reese’s replacement has been expanded nationwide.
“It will be interesting to see who comes to the table, and see the caliber of individual,” Pink said. “I’ve been told by people around the city, believe it or not, I’ve had a few friends who have dropped into my ear that there are some local individuals here in law enforcement, who plan to put their name in the hat. When those searches go to that level, we want to look at everybody who is a possibility to see who can rise to the top.”
No matter who GRCC decides to fill his roles, Reese holds his time at GRCC in high regards, and hopes the next person can raise the bar further. However, now he looks forward to turning his attention to impacting community policing more directly from the classroom. While Reese knows reform is needed in policing, he believes community policing will help bridge the gap between police officers and those they serve.
“Community Policing is more work, because now it requires you to spend time getting to know people,” Reese said. “But when you have that downtime, when you can get out of the car, when you can engage the community, when you can learn about the folks who are there. The next time when you’re dispatched they may give you information, and that’s the goal, to create an environment where everyone can live in harmony and in safety. When you talk about pursuing the American Dream, everybody, that’s the one thing, no matter what you look like or who you are, there’s no one person that wakes up and says, ‘I want to live in danger,’ everyone wants to be safe. That’s where we got to get to, where we all see ourselves as a part of the wheel. We are all a part of this greater wheel called life.”