Three Tustin PD officers honored by OC Human Relations for outreach to students

By Greg Hardesty

OC Human Relations last week honored three Tustin PD officers for reaching out to middle-school students in an effort to strengthen police-community relations.

Officers John Hedges, Robert Nelson and Jorge Sanchez received a Community Policing Award from OC Human Relations at the non-profit’s annual fund-raiser and awards ceremony on Thursday, May 3, at the City National Grove of Anaheim:

The event honored individuals and organizations for work done in 2017 that promotes “justice, diversity and the human spirit.” The Orange County Board of Supervisors founded the OC Human Relations Commission in 1971 as a response to mounting racial tension and conflict.

In November 2017, Hedges, Nelson and Sanchez volunteered to participate in two community dialogue meetings at Currie Middle School, whose students live in a high-density area with limited programs and resources.

The goal of the two community dialogue meetings was to provide the officers and students with a better perspective of each camp’s respective feelings and roles in the community.

In his introduction of the award, Supervisor Todd Spitzer noted that encouraging an ongoing dialogue about diversity is critical to fighting and preventing crime.

The awards program noted that relationships between minority youth and the police have been strained across the United States due to some high-profile incidents.

Tustin PD Officers and Community Policing Award honorees (from center left) John Hedges, Jorge Sanchez and Robert Nelson at the 2018 OC Human Relations Awards dinner at the City National Grove of Anaheim. With them are Tustin Mayor Al Murray (far left) and Tustin Police Chief Charles F. Celano Jr. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

OC Human Relations partners with the Orange County Police Chiefs Association to recognize exemplary community policing programs.

In a video shown to attendees at the ceremony, Nelson said he tries every day to help change the perspective of how many people view police officers.

Sanchez noted that TPD Police Chief Charles F. Celano Jr. has put into place several community outreach projects, such as flag football, Run with a Cop and the Spanish-language Citizen’s Academy.

Hedges said the sessions with Currie Middle School students helped him become a better role model for youth at a stage when the students need strong role models. And he praised Chief Celano and other TPD leaders for launching this and other outreach programs, which Hedges said has made him a better police officer and a better person.

The TPD was one of six honorees in three categories at the event.

Tustin Police Chief Charles F. Celano Jr. (left) with O.C. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel at the 2018 OC Human Relations Awards dinner.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The complete list of the 2018 honorees are:

Estera Borcsa (Yorba Linda) — Emerging leader and service provider for at-risk youth and women’s empowerment

Minerva Gomez (La Habra) — Emerging leader and community organizer for immigrant communities

Brian Peterson (Santa Ana) — Emerging leader and advocate for people experiencing homelessness through Faces of Santa Ana project

Tustin Police Department — In partnership with OC Human Relations, the TPD implemented community dialogue meetings at Currie Middle School to facilitate face-to-face dialogue to understand various perspectives of middle-school students, particularly of minority youth, and to address the importance of mending relationships and becoming advocates for peace and police-community partnerships.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens — The first female sheriff in Orange County, Hutchens has dedicated her service to the ideals of transparency, civilian oversight and community-oriented policing.

Understanding the importance of developing trusting relations over time, Hutchens worked with diverse faith leaders such as leaders from the Christ Our Redeemer AME Church, African American and Latino communities, and the OC Human Relations Commission to convene the O.C. Sheriff’s Interfaith Advisory Council to mobilize diverse faith communities to engage with the OCSD to impact policy, improve mutual understanding, and develop relationships.

Distinguished BRIDGES School – Recognizes exceptional contributions to promote, nurture, protect and cultivate a BRIDGES’ school campus that is safe, welcoming and equitable.

This year’s honoree is Newport Harbor High School — Newport Harbor High School sets an example of how we can come together through leadership, listening, and understanding to address conflicts.