When Grand Valley first established a police department on the Allendale Campus in 1969, it was a different world and a different campus.
There were no computers in police cars, no roadside collection or detection devices and forensic use of DNA was decades away.
In 1969, there were 2,200 students on campus and a handful of buildings. The department began with a police chief, three sworn officers and one patrol car.
Today, the Grand Valley Police Department has 172 employees (including more than 100 student workers), 22 sworn officers and nine patrol cars serving two campuses and more than 24,600 students.
GVPD is celebrating 50 years on campus, its growth over the decades and its continuing mission to build relationships with the campus community to provide a safe environment.
On February 17, 1969, nine years after Grand Valley was established as a college, William Johnson began his duties as the first police chief. Three months later, he hired two officers, including Allen Wygant. Wygant said he learned a lot from Johnson, who was progressive for his time.
“Before coming to Grand Valley, Bill was the former police chief of Grand Rapids and we were lucky to get him,” said Wygant. “Bill had a lot of experience and was well-known. Our department was immediately respected because of him.”
Johnson implemented a community-style policing model at Grand Valley, which continues to this day. Officers were assigned to living centers and special events to interact with students and build trust.
Wygant said it was a unique approach at the time.
“It’s a philosophy of nonviolence,” he explained.
“Bill’s vision was for officers to build positive community relationships with faculty, staff and students in an effort to solve problems and enhance the campus atmosphere.”
1970s and '80s
There were many notable moments for the police department during its first two decades.
In May 1972, 100 students and faculty members blocked traffic on M-45 to protest the mining of North Vietnamese ports and the bombing of North Vietnamese territory by American forces.
The department hired its first student in 1973 to assist officers with parking; there are now more than 100 student employees. Current Police Chief Brandon DeHaan, who has been with the department since 1982, said students are an essential part of the department.
“I am so proud of the growth in the number of students working for us,” said DeHaan. “They are instrumental in helping us with parking, directing traffic or working the desk.”
In 1974, Connie Munch became the first female officer in the department, and in 1978 police officers voted to join the Fraternal Order of Police.
Wygant was named director of Safety and Security in 1979, leading a department that included one detective, five officers, four part-time staff members and one secretary. The department also employed 60-65 students.
The ’80s brought new technology and equipment.
In addition to two-way radios already in patrol vehicles, Mobile Data Terminals were added as a way to dispatch officers, and radar guns were used to regulate speeding.
In 1987, the unit was renamed the Department of Public Safety to reflect the increasing responsibilities of the department.
“Our officers were committed to helping students and making them feel comfortable seeing an officer in uniform.”Barbara Bergers, former police chief
1990s and 2000s
Growth and new initiatives marked the next two decades.
A police bicycle patrol was implemented on a trial basis in 1997 to improve police mobility and visibility. It became a permanent program the following year.
The first tornado warning siren was installed in 1998 just south of the Fieldhouse, eliminating the need to rely on a phone chain system.
A community policing division was established to support students and strengthen community partnerships. In 2000, Katherine Ransom became the first community police officer.
In 2007, a mass notification system known as MIR3 was implemented as a way to alert the campus community via phone and email in case of an emergency. Before that, handwritten messages were taped on doors of buildings and living centers.
Barbara Bergers, who worked in the Detroit Police Department for 22 years, became Grand Valley’s first female police chief in 2004. Bergers said Grand Valley was on the leading edge among universities by involving police officers directly in student residential life.
“Our officers were committed to helping students and making them feel comfortable seeing an officer in uniform,” she said. “That allowed us to help with a variety of concerns, such as mental health issues, alcohol education and how to protect themselves and their property.”
2010s and beyond
During the past decade, technology and social media have changed the way GVPD interacts with students.
The department started a Facebook account in 2012 and it now has a presence on Twitter and Instagram.
“Social media creates a connection between police and the community that helps people see us as a positive resource rather than only an entity that provides negative consequences,” said DeHaan.
Crowd-sourcing investigations through social media has been successful in solving crimes, DeHaan said.
As the university has grown, two major events for the department include navigating the annual fall move-in of 5,000 students and ensuring the safety of up to 16,000 people during Laker football games.
In 2018, the department expanded services at the Pew Grand Rapids Campus with two officers; eventually five officers will be located downtown.
DeHaan said in the next several months new and additional security cameras will be installed on the Allendale Campus, providing a more clear and wider field of vision of campus buildings.
“Much has changed over the past 50 years, but the notion of community policing has remained the hallmark of our organization,” said DeHaan. “We attract top students who want to come here and learn and be successful. The success of this department and each officer revolves around supporting students. If our students are successful, we are successful.”