Behind the Badge nabs five awards in Orange County Press contest


Stories about slaphouses, school safety, mariachi music, and canines. These are just a few of the issues, topics, and personalities Behind the Badge covered in the past year.

On Thursday, June 15, Behind the Badge scooped up five awards at the Orange County Press Club’s 2023 Excellence in Journalism Contest, in another year of strong recognition of the work that appeared in online publication.

The latest haul brings the total number of awards to 60 since BTB began entering the contest eight years ago.

The Orange County Press Club annual contest recognizes outstanding Orange County journalism from stories published in the previous calendar year.

This year the awards were won by three staffers and included one first-place award.

Videographer Tauli Anderson won first place for Best Video as she accompanied police as they raided a slaphouse in Westminster.

Anderson wrote the script, narrated, and produced the on-the-scene video that detailed the operation as the Westminster Police Department, West County SWAT and Buena Park SWAT combined forces to serve a search warrant, make arrests, and seize property at a gambling den in Westminster.

Judges for the contest said, “The on-the-ground action was compelling and told the story better than standard b-roll. It was an attention-getting, informative piece.”

Greg Mellen picked up a pair of second-place awards for his work. One was in the Best News Feature for his coverage of the Orange County School Safety Summit, presented by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney, and the Probation Department.

Headlined “School Safety Summit teaches Orange County districts how to combat dangers to students,” the story explored the myriad potential threats faced by students and staff at area schools and the ways law enforcement, school district personnel and mental  health professionals collaborate.

Mellen’s story also ran in CUSD Insider, a publication by the Capistrano Unified School District, for which Cornerstone Communications provides content.

Mellen also picked up a second-place award for Best Arts/Culture Story for the tale of Santa Ana Police Officer Eddie Nunez. The homicide detective, who was looking for a musical outlet for his daughters to learn musical instruments, ended up founding and running a nonprofit, award-winning youth mariachi program.

Judges called the story “unexpected” and “well written.”

Writer Jessica Peralta’s penchant for pooches led to a pair of awards.

Peralta’s heart-felt story about the life and passing of Santa Ana Police K-9 Puskas, who first gained fame in 2018 for his caught-on-film takedown of a violent parolee in Irvine, won third place in the Best News Feature Category. The Dutch shepherd was involved in about 18 arrests before his retirement in 2019.

Peralta also garnered an honorable mention in the Best Feature category, for her tale about Westminster K-9 Pako, who gained renown as the poster pup whose image was featured on the Fox + Hound Tobacco Bay Soy Candle.

Judges said it was a “cute story told with an appropriately light tone. I learned some things I didn’t know about K-9 units.”