Behind the Badge sweeps up awards in OC Press Club contest


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.”

Recruits line up at the start of Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy’s Class of 239 Graduation Ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

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.”

Mellen took second place for his entry “The specter of ghost guns in California,” which was accompanied by “A Ghost  Gun Guide.”

“Cuts to the heart of a very important issue with much skill and great economy,” judges wrote.

Illustration by Monica Edwards

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.

Los Alamitos Police Chief Eric Nuñez retired in January 2022.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

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.

Santa Ana Police Investigator Ryan Berger with his smile that leaves an impression on people.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“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.”

Click here to view the list of winners from the OC Press Club’s 2022 Excellence in Journalism Contest.

Related stories: 

Behind the Badge takes three first-place OC Press Club awards

Behind the Badge wins six awards from Orange County Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest, bringing total to 45

Behind the Badge wins 12 Orange County Press Club Awards, bringing total to 39