photo by Bernadine Carey-Tucker
Local law enforcement veteran and alumna Renee Freeman was named police chief and director of Public Safety at Grand Valley in September. She served the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety for almost 27 years, working her way up from officer to lieutenant. She also spent 15 years as an adjunct instructor with the Police Academy at Grand Valley.
GVM: You have said you prefer to be in uniform, instead of plain clothes, when on campus. Why?
Freeman: It helps represent who I am, that I’m part of the police department. It’s also an easy identifier for students, faculty and staff. It makes me feel like I am very much involved with our agency and campus community.
GVM: Do you like working at Grand Valley?
Freeman: It has been an incredible transition for me. Everyone has been so kind and welcoming and patient. It was hard to leave a comfort zone after 27 years. It’s nice to be in an environment I am somewhat familiar with, having graduated from here and having worked as an
adjunct faculty member at the Police Academy.
GVM: It must be different being around 24,000 young adults every day.
Freeman: I am very social by nature so I enjoy people from all walks of life. The student workers at the police department have helped me tremendously and I enjoy walking through campus and interacting with students any chance I get.
GVM: What challenges do you face policing a student population?
Freeman: I really prefer to see our presence on campus as opportunities rather than challenges. We have the unique experience of working with very educated, ambitious groups of people who are our future. Interacting with our community, building relationships and becoming rooted in the campus community is extremely important for us to be current and successful in our delivery of services.
GVM: Did you always want to be in law enforcement?
Freeman: Yes, it really seems like I always knew. There really was no defining moment. I simply went right from high school to college to the academy, and began my journey. It truly feels like a calling — I never looked back.
• Certified fire officer
• Avid motorcyclist
• Certified medical first responder
• Four children, one grandson
• Outdoor enthusiast
GVM: You are a role model for women who choose a law enforcement career. Are more women choosing jobs in this field?
Freeman: I started my career at a time when it wasn’t popular for women, but I have never felt at a disadvantage because of my gender — never a barrier, nothing to stop me from being successful. There are so many more women in law enforcement today, serving in many capacities. The field has certainly evolved, like many other occupations that were traditionally filled by men.
GVM: Tell me about your family.
Freeman: I am married and I have four children. Three of my children are now adults and starting their own families, and I have a son at home who is 17.
GVM: What do you do for fun?
Freeman: I like to golf, work out, ride motorcycles; I love outdoor activities. I also like to cook. I could make and eat Mexican food every day. My favorite is enchiladas.
GVM: Would you say you live your job?
Freeman: Professionally and personally, I look at everything worst-case scenario — always. It’s the perspective I naturally take, always wondering how to protect and keep everyone safe. I had age-appropriate conversations with my kids about safety, starting with looking both
ways before you cross the street, to what would you do if someone offers you drugs? And quite frankly, everything in between. In my opinion, it’s also very important to provide the reasoning behind instruction or a decision. It provides greater understanding and appreciation for what is being said.