Family members—and Passaic County Correction Officers Local 197 members — serve the department together
Passaic County Correction Officers Local 197 member Jahreik Dennis used to wake up at 5 a.m., pick up his mother from her house and the two would get ready to sprint through heavy snow.
“It was hard,” he recalled of the winter of 2014. “But if my mom is there, I’d do it all over again.”
Dennis spent January to April of that year going through the Passaic County Police Academy. But he wasn’t alone. Enid Mitchell, his mother, was right next to him the whole time, working their way to becoming correctional police officers.
In fact, it was Enid who harped on Dennis to take the police entry test. Mitchell, who had always wanted to serve and was a provisional officer at the time, believed her son would pass the test easily.
“I would always tell him that being an officer is a good career,” Mitchell shared. “I knew he’d do great.”
But the road to graduation wasn’t always paved with flowers. Mitchell had attended the academy twice before in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, she was laid off. Meanwhile, a hiring freeze within the department prevented Dennis from going to the academy for three years.
Finally, both the mother, who was 45 years old at the time, and son, who was 27, received the call to join the academy in 2014. The two of them had always been close, but they were about to get even closer through the four months of rigorous training.
“I cried every day,” Mitchell revealed. “It was challenging, but I was so thankful that my son was there. He got me through.”
Dennis described the extra training they had to endure just for being directly related. Sometimes, the officers and other recruits would try to rile the mother or son up to try and get them to react.
“They wanted to be sure we were mentally prepared for the job,” Dennis explained. “Because if there’s a situation where something’s happening to my mother while we’re on duty, I have to be able to stay professional. Even though she’s my mom, she’s also an officer. It was more of an integrity test to see if I would lose my cool or get out of character in a stressful situation.”
Mitchell and Dennis reported to County Corrections for their first day on duty the day after graduating from the academy. They will make seven years on the job in April 2021.
Dennis didn’t always dream of becoming a police officer, but he remembers the first time he truly felt like he was meant for the profession. During a confrontation between an officer and an inmate, Dennis was the one who de-escalated the incident.
“Being that I had a built a little rapport with the inmate, I was able to defuse the situation,” he said. “And that’s when I was like, you know what, this [career] is for me. A lot of times the inmates just want someone to talk and relate to.”
Since coming on, mom and son actually started living together about two years ago. They are working together on their next goal.
“We’re both trying to buy a house,” Dennis explained. “So we decided to split the bills and save our money.”
Dennis’ sister, Nijah, 25, lives with them as well.
With the two operating together on a constant loop between work and home, Dennis feels empowered by having the same profession as his mother.
“I love it because we both learn every day at the job and we get to have a conversation about it at the end of the night,” he said. “For us to build on one another and advance ourselves in our career, I think that’s amazing.”
And when it comes to making history, the two do not want to be the only ones.
“This is an open letter for all to come on,” Dennis said. “We’re just the first mother and son, but we have father-daughter combos and father-son combos. We’re all a big family.”