Once a year, Westminster PD takes time to honor its own — officers who have saved lives, supervisors who inspire, dispatchers who calmly handle trauma and volunteers who dedicate hundreds of hours to support the department.
“Most of their exceptional work goes unnoticed, even though it impacts so many,” said Police Chief Kevin Baker. “We must take the time to recognize and honor (them).”
The Westminster Police Department held its annual Awards Ceremony May 7 at the Rose Theater, which drew community supporters, law enforcement colleagues, family members and friends.
“We will always need officers and civilians like those here today who will use intellect, compassion and courageousness to prevent the tyranny of the lawless, and to preserve the freedom of the law-abiding,” Baker said.
New this year, the department recognized two retired members of the department who had a significant impact at Westminster PD — former Chief James I. Cook and retired Officer Al Brackett.
Cook is credited with transforming Westminster PD into a department that would later be revered for its innovation and community policing.
He founded the TARGET unit after gang members claimed the life of a local school teacher in the early 1990s. This unit helped create a multidisciplinary approach to reduce gang violence called vertical prosecution.
Police say his work with Westminster is responsible for saving lives and making the community safer.
Officer Al Brackett was the second recipient of the new award, honored for his work with Police Explorers Program.
He oversaw the program for nearly three decades, inspiring youth interested in law enforcement.
Of those Brackett has mentored in the Explorers, about 50 have joined law enforcement agencies in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties.
“This was just something I did,” Brackett said. “The youth are important to me and the feeling of seeing them advance in their career is something I’ll never get used to.”
Brackett also founded “Every 15 Minutes,” a program adopted by schools across Orange County that stages drunken driving crashes to caution teens against the dangers of drinking and driving.
Law enforcement professionals like Cook and Brackett are examples of the great impact one officer can have on a community.
Baker thanked those who continue to serve the city every day, and recognized the hundreds of thousands dedicated to the profession in departments across the nation.
“To be honest, it goes against human nature to head toward danger instead of away from it,” Baker said. “I’m glad our department is blessed with folks like you, who place such a high value on the lives of others.”
Here’s a look at the 2014 WPD Award Winners:
Medal of Courage
Sgt. Cord Vandergrift and Sgt. Eddie Esqueda
The three were honored for saving the life of a felony suspect trapped in a burning truck.
Police on Dec. 1 responded to reports of a man simulating a weapon in his waistband in the parking lot of a local gym.
The suspect led officers on a dangerous multi-city, high-speed pursuit before crashing his car down an embankment of the 405 freeway.
The man’s leg was pinned in the car, and officers helped free him and carried him to safety.
The passenger died in the crash, but officers pulled him from the wreck and tried to revive him until paramedics arrived.
Medal of Merit
Sgt. Mark Lauderback and Officers Tim Walker and Bill Eifert
These officers arrested a suspect who robbed a bank then hijacked a taxicab in an attempt to evade police.
Police on Dec. 5 responded to reports of an armed robbery in the 15000 block of Brookhurst Street.
The suspect jumped into the backseat of a taxicab. The taxi driver was unaware the man had committed a crime.
When police pulled the taxi over, the suspect got into the driver’s seat and led officer on a high-speed pursuit.
The suspect, at times driving up to 90 miles per hour, ran red lights, drove on the wrong side of the road and finally hit another vehicle head-on.
The 27-year-old suspect was arrested on suspicion of bank robbery, felony evading and auto theft.
He was suspect in several other bank robberies in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
K-9 Officer Travis Hartman
Hartman on Aug. 11 performed CPR on a 64-year-old man who was not breathing and lying on the floor of a laundry mat on Westminster Boulevard.
The man’s face and lips were purple, and he did not have a pulse. After two minutes of performing CPR, Hartman revived the man.
Police Cross Award
Supervisor of the Year
Sgt. Cord Vandergrift
Vandergrift was selected for his positive attitude and mentorship.
Colleagues say he lets his subordinates make their own decisions, helping them to grow in their careers.
Vandergrift has been a member of West County SWAT for the last 16 years. He is a member of the WPD range staff, trauma support team and the Golden West College Criminal Justice Training Center training staff.
Officer of the Year
Officer Paul Walker
Walker has been with the department for 10 years, and is described by his colleagues as a hard worker with a great sense of humor.
Walker is the Lead Explorer Advisor and serves as a mentor for youth interested in law enforcement.
He is also a field training officer, a member of the trauma support team and a director on the Westminster Police Association board.
Investigator of the Year
Det. Andy Stowers
This award is named after Lt. Ron Weber, a 27-year veteran of WPD who died in 2003 from cancer he contracted while investigating methamphetamine labs.
Westminster police honor his memory every year by recognizing a detective who has provided high-caliber investigations.
Stowers has been with Westminster for nine years, five of those as a detective.
He is currently assigned to the gang unit, and has also been a member of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
Stowers has worked a variety of cases, including complex homicides and assisted in the Salon Meritage case, Orange County’s deadliest shooting.
Award of Excellence
Officers Dave Ferronato, Derek Link, and James Delk.
Dispatcher Linette Giardina
PSO Cynthia Moranville
Top Shot Award
This award recognizes the officer with the best marksmanship. There was a four-way tie between Detectives Anil Adam and Andy Pinvidic, Traffic Investigator Jeremy Fletcher and Officer Steve Booth.
Det. Michael Harvey
Harvey was recognized by the Auto Theft Advisory Committee for recovering 28 stolen vehicles, resulting in six arrests.
Officers Jerad Kent and Stewart DeJong
Kent was honored for making 67 drunken driving arrests and DeJong logged 30 drunken driving arrests.
Military Service Recognition
USMC Staff Sgt. Jeremy Fletcher
USMC Maj. Brian Perez
Part-time Employee of the Year
Animal Control Officer Roland Perez
Perez assisted in an incident in which a pit bull attacked its owner and three other family members causing serious injury.
The victims of the pit bull attack were hospitalized and investigating officers relied on Perez’s expertise.
Civilian Employee of the Year
Police Dispatcher Ashley Martin
Martin was recognized for her ability to handle intense situations and traumatic calls with a level-head and great professionalism.
She is responsible for efficiently and effectively handling radio traffic, and officers say she is constantly looking to improve her work.
Martin is described as a dispatcher who is committed, with a positive attitude and a strong work ethic.
Community Service Award
Crime Analyst Elizabeth Yee
Yee has been with the department for nine years as a Crime Analyst.
She is responsible for analyzing data and distributing it to officers in the form of bulletins, charts, maps and reports.
Yee’s work helps officers better patrol the city, identify on crime trends and come up with plans for more effective crime prevention.
Volunteers of the Year
Laura Dela and Don Schuler
Dela works in the department’s Professional Standards Unit where she processes uniform requests for the department and files employee evaluations, among other tasks.
She dedicated 294 hours of service in 2014.
Schuler helps run the volunteer program and participates in many of the community outreach events including National Night Out, the Tet Festival and Safety Day.
Schuler dedicated 301 hours of service last year.
Chief’s Award of Special Recognition
Cypress Police Officer Mike McBain
Seal Beach Police Officer Joe Garcia
Both officers played a role in the incident involving a suspect trapped in a burning truck, which Westminster officers received the Medal of Courage for.
Community Partnership Award
Westminster Boys & Girls Club
The Club partners with the PD in various events every year including the annual Shop with a Cop and the WPOA Hoops League.