March 19 was a big day for the Orange Police Department.
At the Sandhu Event Center at Chapman University, the department welcomed six new officers to the force, awarded medals to others, and celebrated distinguished units.
“It’s my honor and privilege today as we hold the Oath of Office Ceremony to introduce the department’s six newest officers,” Lt. Jeff Bird said. “We will also be recognizing the outstanding achievements of a number of our personnel today.”
Several city leaders were in attendance, including Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, Councilwoman Kim Nichols, and City Manager Rick Otto.
Bird began the ceremony by asking each of the agency’s new hires, which included, Bryce Ayers, Michael Burkey, Jacob Casalou, Nykolo Gonzalez, Kevin Handel and Dan James to stand.
“Today we are welcoming you to our Orange family, but with this admittance comes a commitment to always doing what’s right, having outstanding character, serving the community, and being aggressive when dealing with crime,” Chief Tom Kisela said after the officers took their oath. “The Police Academy is the first phase of what I hope will be a long and rewarding career for all of you.”
Kisela shared advice as well as his expectations with the new officers:
“You’re going to make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes and don’t repeat them. That means you indicate to your training officers if you don’t understand something…You have tremendous power as a police officer, use it judiciously. Never dishonor yourself in this profession or this department.”
After welcoming the new officers, Kisela presented awards and medals to the department’s outstanding officers and teams.
The Orange Police Department’s Bike Team and Homeless Engagement Assistance Resource Team (HEART) was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation.
Bike Team and HEART members include Sgt. Rafael Ward, Cpl. Mark Bailey, Cpl. Daniel Contreras, Cpl. Tyler Ray, Officer Sean Feazell, Officer Jahseam George, Officer Evan Smith, Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Echeverria, and Behavioral Health Clinician Laurie McCaslin.
The teams worked together to ensure the safety of residents while improving the quality of life for others. Their goal is to provide long-term solutions for the city’s homeless and mentally ill, and to proactively address the community’s concerns associated with these individuals.
Since its inception in 2013, HEART has interacted with 9,200 individuals, 592 of which accepted either temporary shelter, detox assistance, mental health services, or family unification.
“You’ve got no idea about the reality of the type of work that these individuals do and some of the conditions they have to work in,” Kisela said. “Each person in these teams are hand selected by myself and the captains and it takes a special person to do it.”
In addition to the Bike Team and HEART, the Orange Police Department’s Honor Guard was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation.
The Honor Guard’s members include: Sgt. Lee Valdez, Cpl. Lucia Zvonaru, Detective Daniel O’Neil-Tennant, Investigator Miguel Zamora, Officers Augie Rocha, John Pickett, Manuel Landeros, Jahseam George, Colten Ivans, Kristen Burney, and Alec Kovac.
The Honor Guard is charged with representing the department during ceremonial events.
Some of their duties include providing funeral honors for fallen officers, presenting flags during ceremony functions, and serving as ambassadors to the department.
“At each of the events the team performed flawlessly, their… confidence was consistent with expectations and demonstrated their exemplary discipline and commitment to the team,” Kisela said. “The group’s high level of competency, professionalism, and preparedness ensured their success so that others may be remembered with honor and dignity.”
After the teams were honored, the department awarded Lifesaving Medals to Officers Ben Gilchrist and Trevor Nelson, and Sgt. Rafael Ward.
Gilchrist and Nelson were honored for a call they responded to about a 10-year-old who drowned in a bathtub in August 2018.
The child was autistic, nonverbal, and suffered from cerebral palsy.
The officers were the first to arrive on scene and Gilcrest immediately retrieved his first aid kit, which included a CPR vest.
Nelson began chest compressions while Gilchrist staged the CPR mask, which provided rescue breathing to the victim until Orange Fire Department personnel arrived to transport the child to CHOC Hospital.
“The emergency room doctor at CHOC who attended to the child said his prognosis for full recovery was excellent,” Kisela said. “He directly credited the initial lifesaving efforts of the first responders as a reason the child was able to be revived and recover.”
Ward was awarded for a call he responded to about a female transient in distress in August 2018.
Ward and the Bike Team immediately responded to the call and located the victim. She was in distress, on her knees, holding her throat, and struggling to breathe.
Ward feared the woman was about to lose consciousness and quickly administered the Heimlich Maneuver.
After several attempts, the woman coughed up a piece of food that was lodged in her throat.
“There was no doubt that Sgt. Ward’s actions directly attributed to female’s survival,” Kisela said. “He displayed a tremendous amount of composure, dedication, and professionalism in his duty to protect and serve the community.”
A surprised Lt. Jeff Bird was the recipient of the Medal of Distinction.
“Lt. Bird has been a member of the Orange Police Department since 1989 and during his 10 years here, he has established himself as one who gets things done,” Kisela said.
“His commitment to the department has led him to accomplish more projects in a year than many thought possible,” Kisela said.
Meet the officers
Ayers grew up in Placenta and attended Fullerton College, where he earned his A.A. degree in administration of justice. Prior to joining the Orange Police Department, Ayers worked as a Police Aid at the Cypress Police Department and his father, Rich Ayers, is a retired Cypress Police Department sergeant .
Burkey is from Chino and attended Liberty University, where he earned his A.A. degree in criminal justice. Burkey served in the Marine Corps from 2006 to 2010 with two combat deployments. Burkey also served in the Coast Guard from 2011 to 2015. Prior to joining the Orange Police Department, Burkey was a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Casalou grew up in La Mirada and attended California State University, Fullerton, where he earned his B.A. degree in communications. Prior to joining the Orange Police Department, Casalou worked for a telecommunications company in engineering as a surveyor and was training to be an engineer.
Gonzalez grew up in Fountain Valley and attended Golden West College, where he began working toward his degree in criminal justice and psychology. Gonzalez has several family members who work in law enforcement. Prior to joining the Orange Police Department, Gonzalez worked for the City of Orange in the public works department.
Handel grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. Prior to joining the Orange Police Department, Handel worked as an advanced emergency medical technician for the City of Bridgeport in Connecticut for 7 years. He relocated to California to join the Los Angeles Police Department. Handel graduated from the Los Angeles Police Department Academy and worked in the North Hollywood division.
James grew up in Portola Hills. He attended the University of San Francisco, where he played baseball and earned a degree in finance and economics. Prior to joining the Orange Police Department, James worked as an associate at a constellation of wealth management. His father retired after 30 years with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, earning the rank of assistant sheriff.