In a year that, at least nationally, was a gloomy one for law enforcement, the Tustin Police Department recently celebrated the great work its officers, professional staff and volunteers performed in 2016.
At the agency’s annual award banquet, held at the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin on Friday, Jan. 13, TPD was able to publicly acknowledge a number of employees for outstanding work over the past year. The work including several lifesaving actions its officers performed to outstanding service provided by the agency’s explorers, cadets and seasoned volunteers — almost always out of the spotlight.
Several city officials and top brass from neighboring law enforcement agencies attended the event, which was hosted by the Tustin Police Officers Association and the Tustin Police Support Services Association. As part of the event, a raffle was held to benefit TPOA Cares, a non-profit organization recently created by the Tustin Police Officers’ Association.
“Despite being under attack physically across the nation…police officers here in Tustin and across the country did what they always do, and that’s protecting those who cannot protect themselves,” Tustin Police Officers Association Vice President Matt Roque said in his comments at the beginning of the ceremony.
Roque said a “silent majority” in the country supports law enforcement. He said what sets the TPD apart is the strong work ethic of its sworn and professional staff and the close bonds the agency enjoys with the community.
Chief Charles Celano, who announced several award-winners, echoed many of Roque’s comments.
“Last year was a very difficult one professionally and, for some of us, personally,” Celano said. “I’ve talked to so many people after the new year who’ve told me they are really hopeful 2017 will be a good year, and better than 2016. I am hopeful, and I hope you are, too. There are some exciting things ahead for the city as well as the Tustin Police Department.”
Celano mentioned that his 13-year-old son, Chaz, wants to be a police officer so he can “protect people,” as he told his father.
“That hit me pretty hard; my 13-year-old knows that’s what police officers do,” Celano said. “As difficult as it was last year and as difficult as it is, there will still be men and women who go out every day and every night to protect all of us, and for that all of us in this room should be proud.”
Here are the 2016 TPD award-winners:
Unit Commendation — Communications
Commander Katarina Thomas said members of the Communication Unit delivered exemplary service while faced with the challenge of lower-than-average staffing levels.
Explorer of the Year — Savannah Phillips
Explorer Sgt. Phillips was selected for her outstanding leadership skills and her willingness to assist fellow explorers and the TPD at large.
Cadet of the Year — Josh Schlesinger
Schlesinger was called a pleasure to work with and someone who does whatever he is asked to do. “You guys have really helped me grow professionally,” Schlesinger told the crowd.
Volunteer of the Year — Rich Ruedas
Ruedas is dedicated to keeping Tustin PD running smoothly, his colleagues say. He is a pleasure to work with and always can be found smiling and checking in on his peers.
Reserve Officer of the Year — George Vallevieni
Vallevieni puts a lot of effort into working with the Citizen’s Academy. He is very knowledgeable and puts the community first, as is evident by his work with the Santa Sleigh, his superiors said.
Community Service Awards
Sgt. Manny Arzate, Communications Officer Kristin Fetterling, Officer Joseph Cossack and Officer Robert Nelson —- The four were honored for creating a variety of engagement strategies for the Tustin PD’s inaugural “Run With a Cop” program.
Sgt. Chris Gerber, Officer Joseph Cossack, Officer Michael Carter, Officer Robert Nelson, Officer Charles Carter, Police Records Specialist Stephanie Distefano — The six organized the Turkey Bowl, another TPD community engagement event.
Det. Diego Gomez, Officer Michael Carter and Officer Jorge Sanchez — The three were honored for the “Knowledge is Power” program that ran simultaneously with “Run With a Cop.” The six-week program focused on anti-bullying, gang prevention and decision-making.
Medal of Merit — Officer Matt Roque
Roque was cited as a driving force behind all of the TPD’s community engagement events.
Master Officer Chuck Mitchell — Mitchell saved the life of a woman at a senior living facility by dislodging food from her throat.
Master Officer Mark Sauerwein, Officer Colton Kirwan, Officer Travis Wilson — The three helped revive an unconscious woman found in a car.
Officer Mark Turner, Officer Matt Howard, Master Officer Jeremy Laurich, Communications Officer Amanda Shanahan, Communications Officer Kailey Kaczor — The five saved the life of a downed motorcyclist by applying a tourniquet on his leg. He would have lost his leg without their efforts.
Master Officer Ralph Casiello — Casiello used CPR to revive an unresponsive 13-year-old at a school.
Officer Jorge Sanchez — Sanchez used CPR to revive a 7-month-old boy found in a pool.
Master Officer Mark Sauerwein, Officer Michael Carter, Officer Chris Natividad — The three revived an elderly female found unresponsive in a hallway outside her apartment.
Officer Chuck Mitchell, Officer Chris Natividad —- The two were recognized for helping save the life of an adult male believed to have overdosed.
Officer Robert Nelson, Officer Michael Carter, Officer Taylor Ryan — The three helped revive an unresponsive male found in a bathroom with a needle in his arm. He had overdosed.
Distinguished Service Award
Officer Anthony Ramirez, Master Officer Val Villarreal — The two were cited for their work in a highly charged incident involving a murder suspect fleeing from Anaheim in a car with two young girls. The girls were reunited safely with their mother.
Sgt. Ryan Coe — Coe was heading home when he came to the aid of an injured motorist whose car became engulfed in flames. Coe helped put out the flames when the motorist escaped from the car.
Community Member Award
Veronica Rivas, community liaison, Heideman Elementary School, and Jonathan Parker, teacher, Heideman Elementary School — Rivas is in just her first full year as Community Liaison at Heideman Elementary. Under her guidance, parent volunteerism has skyrocketed. Rivas teaches parenting classes, organizes special events, ESL classes and other educational opportunities. Parker is a fourth-grade teacher who co-founded the Friday Night Game Night with Principal Sean Lyndsey. The program became extremely popular and quickly grew to over 200 kids.
TPSSA (Tustin Police Support Services Association) Rookie of the Year
Police Service Officer Alysia Cornell — Cornell helps her partners, displays a wonderful attitude and is driven to learn and improve, her superior said. When dispatch experienced low staffing levels, Alysia changed her assignment to assist and is temporarily working full time in dispatch to help cover staffing shortages; she will return to her regular assignment as a Police Services Officer in 2017.
TPOA (Tustin Police Officers Association) Rookie of the Year
Officer Kendall Russell — Kendall, a lateral from Santa Barbara PD, is motivated and focused on proactive police work. She is well liked by her peers for her willingness to work as a team player.
Case of the Year
Det. Diego Gomez, Det. Brian Poling, Det. Ronnie Sandoval, Deputy Probation Officer Art Lopez — The four were recognized for a gang-related shooting that happened in April 27, 2016 that initially was reported as possible fireworks. A woman came forward to report her son had been shot, saying she felt comfortable with Det. Gomez. Three gang members eventually were arrested, leading to several members of a criminal street gang moving out of the city. The trust the community members showed in the Gang Unit in cooperating with law enforcement is truly a testament to the work ethic and bridge building that occurs on a daily basis, TPD officials said.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Sgt. Del Pickney — The former Marine is retiring this year after nearly 29 years with the TPD. He has served as and FTO and narcotics investigator, and has been awarded Officer of the Month three times, Officer of the Year and in 2000 he received a National Community Service Award in Washington D.C. for the creation of the Adopt-A-Complex program. He is known around the department as the “Oracle.” Pickney spent 17 continuous years as either a Field Training Officer or the Coordinator of the Field Training Officer Program. Pickney was also appointed as the first-ever Master Sergeant at the TPD. Pickney has “truly left a legacy of dedication and professionalism here at the Tustin Police Department that will last a lifetime,” his citation read.
TPSSA Dedication and Professionalism Award
Communications Officer Kristin Fetterling — Fetterling is described as always being positive and smiling, eager to help, someone who goes above and beyond and who brings calm to chaos on the radio. Fetterling also is heavily involved in many collateral duties such as the awards committee, peer support, recruitment committee, awards banquet committee and the formal mentor committee, to name a few.
TPOA Dedication and Professionalism Award
Officer Matt Roque — Roque was called “the embodiment” of this award, with a work ethic that is unmatched and outside-the-box thinking that is responsible for so many new and inventive programs. “He is always putting the needs of the agency above his own,” his superior said. Roque was instrumental in the creation of the nonprofit organization TPOA Cares and several community engagement programs such as Run with a Cop.
TPSSA Supervisor of the Year
Property and Evidence Supervisor Dave Kanoti — Kanoti is always willing to help out and has a never-ending positive attitude, his superiors said. He is not only supportive of his staff but the department as a whole and has been called a blessing to the department.
TPOA Supervisor of the Year
Sgt. Del Pickney — Pickney is retiring this year after a full and exceptional career at the TPD. Those who have had the chance to work with him not only respect him but consider him a friend. Pickney is the driving force behind the Tustin Police Department’s social media posts.
TPSSA Employee of the Year
Jasmine DeLeon — DeLeon displays an excellent work ethic and a positive attitude. She is conscientious and willing to help out wherever she is needed. She can always be counted on to greet everyone with a smile.
TPOA Officer of the Year
Officer Matt Roque — Roque was called an excellent example of a well-rounded officer. From his crime fighting Special Enforcement Detail investigative skills to his community oriented “Run with a Cop” efforts, Matt genuinely cares about the Tustin community and wants to make a difference. Roque is constantly brainstorming ways to improve the TPD’s image. He is humble and makes sure his peers are recognized for their contributions.