First Wayne County Regional Police Academy grad receives LEEP Award
— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor
The Wayne County Regional Police Academy selected their first LEEP Award recipient, providing the pre-service cadet with $2,000 to help pay for her academy training.
The Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) Award was presented to Jennifer Ratliff during the Nov. 9, 2017 graduation ceremony at Schoolcraft College in Livonia. “This is the first one we gave out to Schoolcraft. I actually went to Wayne County Regional Police Academy,” said Police Officers Labor Council Chairman Steve McInchak. “I reached out to them and … I went out there and presented the award and a check to her. She graduated as one of the class Lieutenants.”
“She’s a natural leader and she is a consummate team player … that was evident from day 1. Academically she’s very strong. She ranked 15th out of 57 people,” said Academy Director Gregg Brighton.
In recent years, LEEP Awards have also been given to graduates of police academies at Macomb, Mott and Oakland community colleges.
“You know it caught me totally off guard. Steve walked in here cold and said, ‘How come we’ve never been a part of your academy,’” Brighton said. “He made this happen and we worked together with him and satisfied … the criteria that was needed.”
Of the 57 cadets, 32 were non-sponsored. “I pulled out the scores for the 32 pre-service and I took the top 10 for the academic side. And that got them into the competition for this award,” Brighton said. “Then I went on the practical side, the evaluation side, in firearms, emergency vehicle, defensive tactics and physical fitness, each considered a skill by MCOLES.” Brighton asked the instructors for those practical areas to rank the top five cadets.
Ratliff made a good impression from the start. “Our orientation day is a training day they walk in expecting to have a nice orientation. We put them under a tremendous amount of stress in the first 30 seconds and we watch to see who helps other people, who leads, who looks like there going go handle this well and Jennifer was one of those people we spotted right away,” Brighton said. “You need to understand … she was a Military Police Officer in the Marines so she’s an experienced individual in stressful situations.”
Ratliff, 26, served in the Marines from 2009-2014 and comes from a family of public safety and military service. “I joined when I was 17 years old,” she said. “My uncle was a Police Officer and my mom was actually Military Police in the Air Force. Both of my grandfathers were in the Navy and Firefighters. My brother was a Firefighter and EMS. My grandfather was the former Chief of Gibraltar Fire Department.”
Her fellow recruits quickly recognized her leadership abilities. “Her class picked her for the Recruit of the Week the first week,” Brighton said. “The class has to write up a memo nominating an individual that is their standout for the week and it has to have substance.”
“For the first three quarters of the academy, the staff picks the Captain and two Lieutenants. We pick that on leadership and the Sergeant’s position rotates,” Brighton said. “Day 1 my staff picked Ms. Ratliff out of a group of 57 as being one of the three leaders.”
Ratliff was able to make this impression despite her dad being hospitalized at the time. So Brighton told her he would postpone her leadership duties until the last quarter. “It was pretty rough for a while there. He was in the hospital for over a month,” she said. “I’d do my day at the academy and pretty much shoot right over to the hospital and see him for a few.”
Her dad had stage 4 kidney cancer and went into in-patient rehab until he regained his strength after being hospitalized so long. “Everything was so hectic at home and I really needed to focus on that,” Ratliff said. “My best friend was killed while I was in the academy. It was the hardest 17 weeks just because of all the added personal stuff I was going through too.”
Ratliff said her military background gave her an incredible work ethic and drive to succeed. “It just completely sets me up for the rest of my life having the outlook that I do and the work ethic,” she said.
Ratliff obtained an associate’s degree in General Studies from Schoolcraft and has a semester left to finish her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Wayne State University. A single mom with a four-year-old daughter, she wanted to get to work as soon as possible. “My mom is absolutely fantastic, she’s my rock. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without her,” Ratliff said. “She watched (my daughter) every time I had to go into the academy. I’m very lucky.”
Ratliff plans to pursue a police career and finish her schooling. “My major was Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology,” Ratliff said. “A lot of departments have programs for continuing education. Once I’ve established myself and get a good routine down, I’m just going to chip away at those classes. I want to go back and finish my bachelor’s as soon as I can.”
Brighton said the academy is very appreciative of LEEP’s generosity, helping offset the approximately $7,000 academy cost. “It’s a huge help,” Brighton said of the $2,000 LEEP Award. “She was very successful and we were just excited that she got this LEEP Award.”
Ratliff was also honored with a $1,250 Patrick O’Rourke Memorial Scholarship, established in honor of the Schoolcraft police academy graduate and West Bloomfield Officer who died in the line of duty in 2012. “As a command staff, we saw the dedication to her team. She has gone above and beyond her duties as a Sergeant,” Brighton said. “She was always encouraging during PT and an active recruit in the classroom.”
“I just really want to get established in a good department and, within that department, get exposed to all the different disciplines – K9 or undercover or SWAT,” Ratliff said. “I want to be the most well-rounded officer that I can be.”
Ratliff is off to a good start, being sworn in as a full-time Woodhaven Police Officer Feb. 20.