By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
While making her recent rounds on Birmingham’s Southside, Birmingham Police Department (BPD) Officer Jeanette Prince struck up a conversation with individuals in the area’s homeless population—and learned that the place that normally served them food had closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the guys said, ‘Officer Prince, they stopped, and there is no telling when they’re going to start back,’” said Prince, who then asked the group if they had another place to eat.
“They said they were waiting for the [building] to re-open, [and I thought] to myself, ‘Why does this man have to wait on breakfast, not knowing when they are going to open up again?’ … So, I went to [a fast food restaurant] on Clairmont Avenue and got something to [eat] and drink for about 10 or 11 people. I felt better because it’s sad, and it just bothered me to know that they didn’t know where they were going to get their next meal.
“I’m blessed, and I’m able to do this, so why not feed them? … Those guys were glad to get it, and I was more than happy to give it to them,” Prince added. “Even though it was a small gesture, they were really happy about it.”
Fighting For The Underdog
Prince, 59, who has been on the force for 19 years, is a Birmingham native who was raised by her mother and grew up in North Birmingham with her four siblings. She attended Hill and Riggins elementary schools and A.H. Parker High School, where she was a cheerleader.
“I made the team at Parker, and I quit because I wanted an after-school job,” she said. “I was only a cheerleader in high school for a few months, and then that extra job came along, and I wanted to do that.”
After graduating from Parker in 1978, Parker worked several jobs. Still, becoming a police officer was a goal, and she started at the Birmingham Police Academy in 2001.
“In high school, I always said I wanted to be a bus driver or police officer,” she said. “I wanted to feel like I was part of helping people, speaking for the underdog or taking up for them.”
Unlike most candidates, Prince began the academy later than most, in her late 30s.
“There was a lot of classwork and exercise,” she said. “I enjoyed it, but I knew I had to really concentrate and put my mind to everything we had to do because it was pass or fail. In the mornings, we did classwork. In the afternoon, we did exercise. It was a little harder for me, but I was determined.”
Prince, who has a 42-year-old son, Gerald Lamont Prince, graduated from the Birmingham Police Academy in November 2001 and was sent to the BPD South Precinct, where she has been ever since.
Acts Of Kindness
Over the years, Prince has become well known on the Southside and is considered part of the community.
“If someone comes up to me and says they want something to eat, I’ll go get them something to eat,” she said, “Most of the people around here know me and know they can say, ‘Officer Prince, I’m hungry. Can you give me a few dollars to get something to eat?’ I’ll say, ‘No, but I’ll go get you something to eat and drink if you’re hungry.’
“When I was on the burglary and robbery task force, my partner would do it, too. He is really good about that. They know us well around here, so throughout the years I’ve been doing that every now and then.”
And Prince does more than just feed the populace.
“One day, I was patrolling and a lady sitting out there in a wheelchair, so I took her to Pathways, [a United Way agency that serves homeless women and children]. We often take people to shelters and give them the resources they need to get some help.”
Prince doesn’t see what she does as special.
“I don’t mind helping anybody, especially if they’re hungry,” she said. “It bothers me to think that anybody walking around on our streets is hungry and doesn’t have anywhere to go. I just like helping people. … That is just the way I was raised—to care and have compassion for people. I like doing it because I’m blessed, and I think that is what the Lord has us here for. He wants us to bless others.”