Police departments in 2021 faced unparalleled challenges, from continued difficulties in hiring and retaining quality candidates to an unprecedented flow of guns, traceable and untraceable, onto the streets.
Once again Behind the Badge was with them, talking about the issues and people in law enforcement and providing award-winning coverage. Behind the Badge took home six awards for writing, sweeping the top three in the Orange County Press Club’s 2022 Excellence in Journalism Contest, announced Thursday, June 30.
The six awards bring Behind the Badge’s total to 55 since it began entering the contest seven years ago.
For the first time in three years, the awards ceremony was held in person with Kedric Francis, long-time emcee, and award-winning L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano presenting the awards.
Behind the Badge swept the top three awards in two categories in the Sponsored Content division: Best News Feature and Best Feature, with Greg Mellen, Karen Meeks, and Jessica Peralta earning recognition.
In the News Feature category, Mellen won first place for “Law enforcement faces unprecedented challenges in hiring and keeping recruits,” a story about the issues police departments face both nationally and locally. Judges wrote, “The writing flows and the story is really insightful and compelling.”
In the story Mellen wrote, “In the wake of a spasmodic year of protests and pandemic, plus an aftermath of violent crime, the profession may be fast approaching a generational and possibly historic reckoning.”
“Cuts to the heart of a very important issue with much skill and great economy,” judges wrote.
Jessica Peralta took third place for her sweet portrait “Santa Ana K9 Clyde settles into retired life.”
In the story, about a “goofy, happy-go-lucky dog,” Peralta noted some of the perils Clyde faced: “Clyde’s enthusiasm for his work continued throughout the years. But not without some consequences. He has two broken canines, 12 missing teeth, cauliflower ears and has torn his Achilles tendon.”
In the feature category, Mellen won with “Small town police officer made a big time mark,” profiling Los Alamitos Police Chief Eric Nunez.
Judges wrote, “Snappy and engaging writer gives us a real view of a character with grit.”
Meeks took second place with “Santa Ana’s civilian investigative assistant helps bring criminals to justice,” a compelling story about Ryan Berger, who has overcome his disability, a condition often called brittle bone disease, to become a top investigator with the Santa Ana Police Department.
“Thank you for introducing me to an unforgettable character,” wrote one judge.
In the story, Meeks was able to get Berger, who persevered to find work, to speak candidly about his disability.
“It’s a part of me but I found a way to make it work, to be able to overcome it, to do the things that able-bodied people can do,” he said. “I find a way to overcome the obstacles that come my way.”
Peralta went to the dogs again for her third-place entry, “Westminster police officer may have finally found his K9 match,” about Westminster Officer Steve Booth and Dragon.
In a story described as “well-written” by judges, Peralta said Booth was smitten as soon he heard his new partner’s name: “…they had him at Dragon.”
“I’m a huge, huge, huge ‘Game of Thrones’ fan,” Booth said. “Just his name alone, I’m in.”