Westminster PD partners with local restaurant for community meet-and-greet

By Jessica Peralta

Before leaving the tent set up by West County SWAT in front of the Westminster Chick-fil-A, one of the kids quickly turned around to give Officer Mike Gradilla a hug.

“It’s stuff like that – that’s what it’s all about,” said Gradilla.

This kind of outreach is one of the reasons Westminster Police Department officers spent a recent Saturday morning meeting and greeting members of the public in front of a Chick-fil-A restaurant. The Aug. 26 event was part of a partnership with the restaurant to encourage community interaction with the local police department.

Danica Scribner, 2, of Sunset Beach reaches out to pet Pako, a police dog with the Westminster PD, during a community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“It’s truly where our heart is – to serve our community,” said Chana Warnock, marketing director at the restaurant.

With a background in nonprofit work, Warnock said it’s important to her and the restaurant owner to offer community events like this that anyone can attend.

Scott Woods, 9, of Huntington Beach tries on the heavy SWAT gear with the help of Westminster PD SWAT Officer Mike Gradilla as part of a community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Anyone can participate, regardless of what their circumstances are,” she said.

The West County SWAT truck was hard to miss, parked directly in front of the restaurant. Next to it was a tented area where passersby could stop, see, touch and even try on impressive gear used by SWAT members. And, of course, WPD’s popular police K9 Pako was on hand (alongside his handler Officer Travis Hartman) for both kids and adults to pet him. He wasn’t shy about rolling on his back for them either.

“Pako and SWAT are the two most popular things we have in the department right now,” said Commander Mark Lauderback.

Benny Nguyen, 12, of Fountain Valley looks out the turret of a West County BearCat (SWAT vehicle) with his sister, Minnie, 9, as kids are invited to explore the vehicle during a Westminster PD community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

He said the community seemed to be very enthused about the Saturday event. Though it was set to run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., “people were walking up at 10 o’clock,” he said.

Not only do events like these give the community a chance to get to know their local officers, but Lauderback said the officers love to come out as well.

Indeed, the SWAT officers invited anyone walking by to come to the tent to learn about their gear, which included a battering ram to get through doors, a grenade launcher, ballistic helmets, riot shields and tactical vests, as well as tour the SWAT vehicle. They answered questions, helped kids and adults put on the gear, and posed for photos with them, too.

Westminster PD Det. Jerad Kent talks with kids invited to explore the inside of a West County BearCat (SWAT vehicle) on display during a community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Gradilla, who is the newest member of the SWAT team and has been an officer at WPD for four years, said the agency wants to be accessible to the community and dispel some of the fears that may exist.

“We want the children to actually like to talk to us,” he said.

Meghan Foster and her husband, Kyle Bezayiff, pose for their cell phone camera at a Westminster PD community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Amid smiles and “thank yous” from both adults and children, the interactions seemed nothing but positive.

“Just as much as they get something out of it, I get something out of it, too,” Gradilla said.

Eight-year-old Zachariah May of Huntington Beach tries out an (unloaded) less-lethal shotgun under the supervision of Sgt. Anil Adam during a community outreach event in front of a Chick-fil-A in Westminster.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster Chick-fil-A owner Blake Wohlgemuth said he was grateful to have the officers at the event.

“It’s great to see the community interact with the police officers,” he said. “I really think it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Westminster PD Det. Jerad Kent plays handcuffs with the toy bracelet of Westminster Councilman Sergio Contreras’ kids, Sergio, 4, and Chloe, 7, as they and other kids tour a West County BearCat (SWAT vehicle) during a community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Thuy Nguyen stands close to her daughter, 9-year-old Minnie, as she tries on SWAT gear during a Westminster community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A West County BearCat (SWAT vehicle) and tent with weapons and other tools used by the Westminster PD is displayed in front of a Chick-fil-A on Beach Boulevard in Westminster.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster PD Det. Jerad Kent talks to Matthew Olson, 6, of Huntington Beach, and his 3-year-old brother, Cameron, right, about police work while sitting in the back of a West County BearCat (SWAT vehicle).
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Jax Bui, 4, of Westminster, smiles as he gets his photo taken with Westminster Officer Mike Gradilla during a community outreach event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC