The Grand Rapids Police Advisory Board (PCAB) and members of the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) are working on a collaborative project to promote public safety awareness, develop communication, and discuss current community issues for area policing. Members of PCAB will be riding along with GRPD officers over the next year for a shared community experience. This is part two of a series.
Sgt. Kevin Ott, age 36, has been a member of the GRPD since February 2008. A native of Grand Rapids, Kevin’s dream was to become a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Kevin’s father, Marv Ott, retired Itasca County Veteran’s Officer, suggested Kevin follow in his military path. Kevin attended Itasca Community College (ICC), earning his AA degree and then received his BS in Sociology/Criminology from the University of Wisconsin/Superior. He enlisted in the Air Force and set off for what he had hoped to be his military aviation career, only to learn within weeks of entry that he was color deficient, and his dream would not be achieved. So, to follow an old adage of “when life hands you lemons,” Kevin did a redirect to change course. He earned his AS degree in Law Enforcement from Fond Du Lac Community College, topped by his Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree from the University of Cincinnati.
Laurie Turman, age 51, native of Fargo-Moorhead, moved to Grand Rapids 13 years ago. She attended Moorhead State University for nearly four years, studying both psychology and biology, before turning to a four-year trade apprenticeship. Laurie became a journeyman millwright in 1999. A single mother of two, she travels extensively, and for long durations. In her free time, she is an outdoor enthusiast who finds solace in the lakes, trees and waters of this area. Laurie enjoys reading and volunteering in her community, with a focus on issues pertaining to human rights, social justice, and environmental causes. She became a member of the police advisory board in January 2019.
On the afternoon of their ride along, Laurie broke the ice when opening the squad door and telling Kevin, part sheepishly and part in lessons learned, “this will be the first time that I will be riding in the front seat of a police car.” And so, they were off, two people in juxtaposition. Laurie told Kevin how she had battled meth addiction over the course of her life. Laurie explained that, in her younger years, there was little information available on meth and that younger people started the drug not really knowing how the drug worked or how it would impact their lives. Laurie described the battle of addiction and how it crossed every aspect of her journey. It was an arrest that forced her to get real about what direction her path was going. In conversation, Laurie learned that Kevin’s wife, Tiffani, is a Treatment Court Coordinator for the Minnesota Judicial Branch and leads a program – the Wellness Program – that Laurie credits for being the compass that guided her to a life of sobriety.
Wellness Court in Itasca County was established in April 2007 with a mission to unite judiciary criminal justice entities, substance abuse treatment providers, and the community, to enhance public safety and ensure offender accountability. The program aims to reduce the financial impact on society, reduce substance abuse and restore offenders to law-abiding productivity.
Kevin told Laurie he was an advocate of Wellness Court because he saw it work – people in the program were less likely to repeat their crimes, participants were dedicated to their sobriety and became better civic citizens in returning to their community. Laurie agreed, and explained that she tried many other programs but they did not work. She found there was a great cynicism towards law enforcement and the courts where it was easy to pass blame instead of accepting personal accountability.
Laurie, as part of her career, must be drug tested for many employment contracts, so she was surprised to learn that Minnesota does not mandate drug screening in the hiring of police officers. She also said she had no idea the officers in Minnesota are so well-trained and educated. Laurie was unaware that officers are required to have a minimum two-year associate degree, complete skills training, pass physical and psychological screenings and must pass state boards to be licensed as a police officer in Minnesota. Kevin shared that it was not uncommon for officers to hold bachelor’s degrees and nowadays, with exceptional online programs – officers are working towards graduate degrees. He explained to Laurie that the training and education never stops. Laurie was encouraged to hear Kevin praise Chief Scott Johnson as an education advocate who really pushes for broad learning enhancement for the department members, including sensitivity, diversity and cultural training. The GRPD is currently working in partnership with area providers to create better mental health safety nets, with the hope that there can be a reduction in emergency room calls and jail placements.
Laurie went to the dispatch center and saw many of the technical aspects of law enforcement. She said she thinks if citizens are able, they should do a ride-long with an officer, as she saw a side of the work she was not aware of.
Laurie said, “I have a whole new respect for the police in my town – I feel very proud of our department.”
Kevin said he felt the privilege was his in having Laurie along to share her story of recovery. It provided him the opportunity to listen and understand viewpoints he had never considered.
“I think I learned more from her than she learned from me,” he remarked.
In the end, two people who had each tasted a bitter moment in life learned how to make lemonade through a shared glass of camaraderie.