For Dominique Sandifer, being a police officer is about accountability. A former Beverly Hills High School football player, Dominique learned early on the importance of accountability to his team, his family and his community.
On Tuesday night, the Freemasons of Beverly Hills honored Officer Sandifer and Beverly Hills Fire Department Engineer Stephen Hale for staying accountable to the city with the lodge’s annual First Responders of the Year Award.
“We wanted to show our appreciation for what these people do every day,” said Daniel Ben Ari, a junior steward with the Beverly Hills Lodge No. 528 who was in charge of the award night events. “There are a lot of targets in Beverly Hills, and a lot of what goes on behind the scenes to keep us safe is taken for granted. It’s important to remember who is keeping us safe and to show our appreciation.”
The Freemasons ask each department to select the first responders for recognition each year. Ben Ari said he was struck by how tightknit the departments are and how well they work together. Both departments clearly had a tough time choosing just one recipient.
“We have a lot of good people. Steve tends to stay in the background. He’ll even say, ‘Do not nominate me for anything,’” said BHFD Deputy Chief Joseph Matsch. “We are going to recognize you for the great job you do! It’s the least we can do to honor your dedication to the citizens of Beverly Hills. I can’t say enough good about the man.”
A member of the accreditation team and a member of the apparatus committee, Hale is a detailed-oriented credit to the department who has even lent his handy nature to meet BHFD’s needs: he has fabricated shelves and dividers for new fire apparatus, sewn new saw-blade bags, fashioned custom equipment straps, and repaired damaged protective clothing (saving the City thousands of dollars). Steve has traveled extensively to ensure the quality of the department’s new fire apparatus are built according to design-specs and operate according to BHFD expectations.
In introducing Hale at the awards ceremony, BHFD Chief Greg Barton called Hale “arguably one of our most competent fire engineers.”
Taking to the podium at the Lodge, Hale kept his response brief and full of gratitude.
“I think it’s amazing to have a career where you get to come to work and you don’t know what you’re going to get,” he said. “I enjoy what I do.”
In BHPD’s case, choosing one recipient was also a difficult task. Ultimately, Sandifer’s accomplishments in DUI arrests – and his dedication to keeping the streets safer – led to his nomination, said Field Training Officer Jeffrey Newman.
Sandifer “stood out from his peers and made a name for himself based on his experience, relentless work ethic, and tenacity to keep our streets safe,” Newman said.
After one year as a new officer, Sandifer advanced his skills, tackling tests and courses that go far beyond what new officers typically undertake. Now in his second year, his dedication to preventing DUI accidents has likely saved countless lives. Including his own.
“While directing traffic, Officer Sandifer’s vehicle was hit by a DUI driver as he stood nearby. Both cars spun out of control and they came literally inches away from striking him. This collision could have caused debilitating injuries or killed Officer Sandier,” Newman said. “It was later learned the driver was also armed with a handgun, further enhancing the danger of impaired drivers.
“Despite the busy nature of a new patrol officer, Officer Sandier made an impressive 19 DUI arrests during the course of 2018,” Newman said. “No other officer made as many arrests for DUI in 2018 besides the officers assigned specifically to DUI enforcement.”
In addition to DUI work, Sandifer made 94 arrests, wrote 31 citations, and completed 228 investigations in 2018, which Newman described as “an impressive commitment to hard work that has earned him the respect of peers and supervisors alike.”
For his part, Sandifer said police work is a natural extension of the lessons about accountability, opportunity and gratitude he learned as a high school student from an underserved neighborhood who received a permit into the Beverly Hills School District. His grandmother worked at the Beverly Hills Public Library, which allowed Sandifer to leave his Los Angeles neighborhood early each morning and make the trek to Beverly Hills.
“I’m thankful for my grandmother,” Sandifer said. “Being in this community opened my eyes to different opportunities.”
Sandifer continued to play football while earning his bachelor’s degree in child and family development and his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from San Diego State University. After sitting behind a desk for a few years as a counselor, the outgoing and active and Sandifer decided to research a career in police work.
“I ended up loving the process more than I thought I would,” he said. “Now, not only do I love what I do, but I’m also out and about, and I’m being that role model for others.”
Sometimes being a role model means arresting someone who has made a terrible – and potentially fatal – decision.
“People think it’s not a big deal [to drive impaired], until it becomes a big deal,” he said. “It affects generations, people growing up without their parents or without their kids. So, it’s a horrible decision, and it’s a selfish decision.”
Sandifer links his role in stopping DUIs with the accountability he learned on the BHHS football field.
“Sports teaches you about accountability, and accountability goes hand in hand with DUI drivers. They are not being accountable even though their cars could be used as weapons,” he said. “The person crossing the street the way they’re supposed to, or the person driving a car the way they’re supposed to can’t hold the DUI driver accountable. That’s where I come into play.”
To amplify the good work of the award recipients, Beverly Hills Lodge No. 528 will donate $2,500 to charities of each recipients’ choice.
Hale selected California Hands and Voices, a charity that supports families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Sandifer has asked that his donation be made to Doing All Honorable Services, a non-profit started by his best friend from college, Davion Mauldin, which has listed on its Facebook page a mission to encourage self-sufficiency of the underserved.
Ben Ari, who served in the Israeli Defense Force in Lebanon before becoming a filmmaker, said he is impressed by people like Hale and Sandifer who have dedicated their careers to protecting others.
“They don’t just make traffic stops or put out fires, they see a side of society and of nature that the rest of us can’t relate to,” he said. “You have to respect that and the people who do it.”
While he is honored by the recognition, Sandifer said the work he does is part of a larger team effort.
“For me it’s an honor to represent the department,” he said. “It’s not just me, it’s my teammates, the people I go to work with every day. I’m thankful and honored to be recognized, but I couldn’t do it without my team.”