Fairhaven Memorial Park celebrates Santa Ana officers with Responder First Awards


Officer Joe Biebrich of the Santa Ana Police Department remembers the role he played recently in taking down a suspect in a violent carjacking and pistol whipping. He is gratified not only to have taken down a violent offender who is also a suspect in similar crimes, but also in bringing a sense of justice to the victim.

For the ways large and small that police serve and protect the public, Biebrich and fellow Santa Ana Police Officers Mario Perez and Bernardo Camacho were honored by Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary in Santa Ana at the fifth Responders First banquet at Fairhaven.

Santa Ana police, city officials, and staff gathered for the fifth annual Responders First Awards and banquet honoring exemplary officers for their service.
Photo by Greg Mellen/Behind the Badge

“These officers really project the best representation of what Santa Ana PD is all about,” said Commander Joe Marty, “a tradition of enforcement and community engagement and building trust with residents.”

Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Phil Bacerra was in attendance and was joined by Councilmember Nelida Mendoza and other public officials.

Bacerra said it is important to acknowledge the sacrifices officers and their families make to serve the public, not only in enforcement but “bridging the alleged divides” with citizens. Bacerra wanted to speak for the “overwhelming majority that appreciate what you do.”

Stephanie Alvarez, General Manager for Fairhaven, said that since 2018 the park and mortuary has honored officers who put their lives on the line. Alvarez said she has always been struck by the large lines of officers and law enforcement that attend when first responders are brought to the cemetery.

“We wanted to (find) a way to acknowledge you, a way to honor officers in life, not in death,” she said.

In addition to handing out plaques, Fairhaven made $100 donations to charities in the officers’ names.

Santa Ana police gathered to honor (left to right holding plaques) officers Mario Perez, Bernardo Camacho, and Joe Biebrich at the fifth annual Responders First Awards presented by Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary.
Photo by Greg Mellen/Behind the Badge

The awardees are:

Officer Joe Biebrich is a patrol officer who has been at Santa Ana Police Department for four years. After 13 years in public accounting, he ditched his desk job to become a cop. When he graduated from the police academy at 37, he said he was the second oldest graduate, behind only a former Marine.

“I always felt the calling to serve,” Biebrich said. It just took some time to answer the call.

Biebrich was nominated for the award by Sgt. Rosa Ponce de Leon. According to a biography provided by Fairhaven, among other things, ”The quality of Officer Biebrich’s investigations shows experience and follow-through, resulting in closed cases by arrest.”

Biebrich said he is proudest “when I follow a case all the way through and put the bad guy in jail.”

Eventually, Biebrich said, he would like to become a robbery detective. Before applying to Santa Ana Police Department, he said he learned about the different departments and “this one sounded like a really good fit.”

So far he is delighted with his choice of career.

“This job’s a lot more fun,” he said.

A  donation was made in his name to Human Options, which helps victims of domestic violence.

Plaques were handed out to honor Santa Ana Police Officers Bernardo Camacho, Mario Perez and Joe Biebrich at the fifth annual Responders First Awards and banquet, presented by Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary.
Photo by Greg Mellen/Behind the Badge

Officer Mario Perez came to Santa Ana 2 ½ years ago as a lateral transfer from Orange and after 11 years in the Air Force. Perez knew of Santa Ana and the police department from family members who grew up in the area.

He is part of the Directed Patrol and is kept active responding to community complaints and “doing suppression with boots on the ground.” Perez said his unit takes out drug houses and other “nuisances” from neighborhoods.

Part of his nomination biography read, “Officer Mario Perez is being honored for his quality work, thoroughness and precision which was instrumental in addressing violent crime in the City of Santa Ana.”

“It’s just liberating to take out something that’s been a problem,” he said. “To respond to a nuisance and take it out and make a difference.”

A donation was made in his name to the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Widows and Orphans Fund.

Officer Bernardo Camacho is a three-year patrol veteran with the department. Born and raised in Santa Ana, he said neighbor and Santa Ana Policeman Adam Aloyian encouraged him to pursue law enforcement. Camacho attended Santa Ana College and went straight into the police academy.

He was recognized for “his precision, intelligence and proactive police work essential to accomplishing the mission of eradicating violent crime and promoting Community First,” a vision started by Chief David Valentin of the best way to combine police services and community involvement.

A patrol officer in the Southeast District, Camacho said his approach to policing is to be “proactive, open-minded and always willing to learn.”

Eventually, he says, he would like to work in the department’s Gang Unit.

A donation was made in his name to Waymakers, a local nonprofit that helps youths and families find their way past conflict and crisis to stability.