Westminster Police Department hosts awards ceremony honoring employees’ good works

By Jessica Peralta

While a photo slideshow of Westminster Police Department employees played on a screen in the Rose Center Theater, many of these same employees were honored for their good work on May 23 in front of their family, friends, and colleagues.

“Law enforcement is about the tradition,” said Westminster PD Chief Ralph Ornelas. “I’m just honored to be here to … partake in giving out these awards.”

Westminster PD Officer Kees Davis, front right, leads the Honor Guard at the start of the Westminster Police Department’s 2017 Awards Ceremony at the Rose Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The annual Westminster PD Awards Ceremony honored employees across a range of categories and accomplishments, including Volunteer of the Year, Officer of the Year, Investigator of the Year, and many more.

Volunteer of the Year

Explorer Vanessa Cruz was named 2017 Volunteer of the Year. Cruz has been a volunteer with the WPD explorer post for four years. As explorer captain, she oversees 20 to 25 explorers, interviews new applicants, schedules events, coordinates training, and maintains equipment inventory, all while attending school full time and working as a lifeguard in the summer.

Vanessa Cruz, center, receives the Volunteer of the Year award from Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas and Officer Mike Ogawa, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“The Westminster Police Department is extremely proud of our volunteers,” said Officer Kees Davis, Westminster Police Officers’ Association (WPOA) vice president. “They provide our department and the Westminster residents a variety of support and services, and they do all of this without any compensation.”

Cruz volunteered 230 hours to the agency and the community in 2017.

“While most teens her age slept in on the weekends, she often wakes up at 0400 hours to be at the station preparing for special events in Westminster or other cities,” Davis said.

Part Time Employee of the Year

Cindy Gray was named the 2017 Part Time Employee of the Year. Gray is currently assigned to the Professional Standards Unit. In 2017, she was assigned to the Property Division.

Cindy Gray, center, receives the Part Time Employee of the Year award from Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas and Officer Mike Ogawa, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Cindy has always caught on quickly no matter what division she is assigned to and always comes to work with a positive attitude and ready to work hard,” Davis said. “While working in the Property Division, she was responsible for tracking thousands of pieces of evidence, ensuring evidence is distributed to the proper laboratories, and following up on court cases and chain of custody documentations. … Cindy has taken on many new duties and responsibilities, and takes on these challenges with determination and enthusiasm.”

Civilian of the Year

Nicole Dixon was named the 2017 Civilian of the Year.

“Nicole works in the Forensic Service Unit and is in charge of a vast amount of responsibilities,” Davis said. “Just a few examples of those duties include processing major crime scenes, analyzing forensic evidence, training officers when it comes to new technology, managing the budget in FSU, as well as working hand-in-hand with detectives for the successful prosecution of cases. Nicole is often one of the first employees in the building in the morning and one of the last to leave. She is always available for callouts and you can count on her to always show up with a great attitude and ready to work no matter what the circumstances may be.”

Nicole Dixon, center, receives the Civilian of the Year award from Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas and Officer Mike Ogawa, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Rookie of the Year

Officer Nick Jezulin was named the 2017 Rookie of the Year. The award is given each year to a patrol officer who has exemplified the mission, vision, and values of the agency and has less than three years of experience at the Westminster PD.

Officer Nick Jezulin, center, receives the Rookie of the Year award from Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas and Officer Mike Ogawa, right, during the WPD 2017 Awards Ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Officer Nick Jezulin is currently assigned to East Command working graveyard shift,” Davis said. “Nick has a passion for police work and always comes to work with a positive attitude and professional appearance.”

In 2017, Jezulin made more than 100 arrests, including achieving the Mothers Against Drunk Driving milestone of arresting more than 25 DUI drivers. He is a WPOA board director and volunteers as a WPOA Hoops Basketball League coach.

“His peers described Nick as a workhorse and consistently one of the leaders in patrol production,” Davis said.

Officer of the Year

Officer Samuel Gradilla was named 2017 Officer of the Year. Gradilla is currently assigned to West Command and works night cover shift.

“Sam has a tremendous work ethic, which can be clearly seen in his level of productivity,” WPOA President Mike Ogawa said. “In 2017, Officer Gradilla made 87 arrests, conducted 333 enforcement-related stops, wrote 300 crime reports and always was there for his partners to help them out when things got busy.

“Sam is the definition of a team player, he will always stay over when patrol is short-staffed, will always volunteer to help out on special operations, and always comes to work with a positive attitude.”

Ogawa gave an example of Gradilla’s willingness to help.

“He came into the station to finish a report at night and detectives were scrambling to find people to help with a homicide investigation surveillance at such a late hour. Without hesitation Sam volunteered to help out and completed a 12-hour surveillance, which helped lead to arrests in the case,” Ogawa said.

Ron Weber Sr. Investigator of the Year

Det. Ryan Reyes was named 2017 Investigator of the Year. The award is named after Lt. Ron Weber, a 27-year WPD employee whose work passion was investigations. He spent much of his career as a detective, specifically in narcotics. He passed away in 2003 from cancer that he had contracted years before while investigating meth labs.

Detective Ryan Reyes, right, receives the Ron Weber Sr. Investigator of the Year award from Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas and Officer Kees Davis, center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“As a relatively new member of the Crimes Against Property Unit, Ryan hit the ground running and made an immediate impact,” Ogawa said. “Ryan started a ‘Bait Bike’ program that has been extremely successful leading to multiple arrests. He researched and developed the entire program and was responsible for the purchase of equipment, the training of personnel, and continual monitoring of the program. He invested countless hours of his own time to ensure the success of the program.”

“Det. Reyes has been described by his peers as always working hard on his caseload, friendly and team-oriented, very knowledgeable when it comes to DNA-related investigations and is who other detectives go to with DNA-related questions,” Ogawa said.

Supervisor of the Year

Sgt. Scott Gump was named 2017 Supervisor of the Year.  He is currently assigned to patrol, where his main responsibility is supervising patrol officers and monitoring field activity. He is also a WPOA board director and is in charge of the WPOA Hoops Basketball League as well as the annual WPOA fireworks stand. He is also an instructor at Golden West Police Academy and Golden West SWAT Academy.

“This is only a small part of Scott’s responsibilities and impact that he has at the department,” Ogawa said. “He is also on the West County SWAT Team as assistant team leader on the entry team. Scott is a long-time explorer advisor that helps mentor youth that aspire to have careers in law enforcement. Scott is also a rangemaster and helps both create and facilitate training activities at our range, and goes out of his way to take time to work with officers who need further help sharpening their tactics or shooting accuracy.”

Top Shot Award

Det. Jerad Kent recived the Top Shot Award.

“Marksmanship is a skill each officer must possess,” Commander Darin Upstill said about the award. “Each year, the Westminster Police Department holds a competition to determine who is ‘the best of the best.’”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Awards

“The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking,” Upstill said. “Each year MADD honors officers who reach a set goal of driving under the influence arrests.”

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas, left, presents the MADD Award to Officer Malcolm Pierson, Officer Marcela Lopez, Sgt. Andrew Stowers and Officer Nick Jezulin.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Four officers met those goals this year: Officer Malcolm Pierson with 25 arrests, Officer Marcela Lopez with 26 arrests, Sgt. Andrew Stowers with 26 arrests, and Officer Nick Jezulin with 32 arrests.

Military Service Recognition

Sgt. Bill Drinnin, Cpl. Jeremy Fletcher, Det. Jim Wilson, Det. Jerad Kent, Det. Omar Ayala, Det. Andy Pinvidic, Det. Brian Perez, Det. Daniel Flynn, Officer Steve Eifert, Officer Jason Stouffer, Officer Roland Perez, Officer Christian Hernandez, Officer Stewart DeJong, Officer Michael Ogawa, Officer Jim Delk, Policer Service Officer Chris Doung and Police Service Officer Cindy Moranville were all asked to stand to be honored for their military service.

“It takes a certain type of person to dedicate their life to service of the community and their country,” Commander Mark Lauderback said. “We are very proud to have many officers and civilian staff who have made this commitment throughout their careers. Tonight we acknowledge all of our employees who have served their country in our armed forces.”

Auto Theft Advisory Committee Awards

The Auto Theft Advisory Committee (ATAC) is a partnership between law enforcement, insurance companies, and other auto-related companies with a goal of helping to reduce auto theft.

“Each year the committee honors officers from various agencies who have excelled in locating stolen vehicles as well as arresting those who are in possession of the vehicle at the time of its recovery,” Lauderback said. “This year the four officers from Westminster Police Department had recovered a combined total of 76 stolen cars, which equaled over $500,000 in property loss, and arrested 30 individuals related to the 76 recovered vehicles.”

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas, center, presents the 10851 Award for Vehicle Theft Recovery to Officers Christopher Doan, left, Alex Lopez, Roland Perez, and Dan McCarthy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The four recipients of the ATAC Awards were Officer Alex Lopez, who recovered 14 stolen vehicles; Officer Roland Perez, who recovered 16 stolen vehicles; Officer Christopher Doan, who recovered 20 stolen vehicles; and Officer Dan McCarthy, who recovered 26 stolen vehicles.

Community Service Awards

“Although we pride ourselves here at Westminster PD as being crime fighters, we are always public servants, a term becoming synonymous with community service,” Commander Cameron Knauerhaze said. “This award – quite simply – is about serving others. And the beauty behind this award is anyone can receive this distinction through their commitment to serving mankind.”

The three recipients were Sgt. Scott Gump, Sgt. Michael Harvey, and Officer Alan Emerson.

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas, center, presents the Community Services Award to Sgt. Scott Gump, left, and Sgt. Michael Harvey. Officer Alan Emerson, who also received the award, was not present.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“For the past five years, Sgt. Gump and Sgt. Harvey have worked in a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster and organized and run the WPOA Hoops League,” said Boys & Girls Club of Westminster Chief Professional Officer Jeovan Davila. “The league takes 70 kids from six schools and provides them with a free opportunity to learn and play basketball. Officers from the PD volunteer their time to coach the kids of the league. … Sgt. Gump and Harvey coordinate the entire league, coach teams and referee the games. After the championship game, the Boys & Girls Club host a (barbecue) and everyone from the community attends the event. The lessons and values taught to these young kids through this league is another example of how WPD is making a positive difference and impact in the community.”

City Net Collaborative Case Manager Sophia Cao helped present Emerson with his award.

“Officer Alan Emerson has been assisting City Net homeless services by helping provide resources and support to families and individuals in need during the entire year of 2017,” Cao said. “During that time, Officer Emerson’s participation has assisted in getting 73 individuals off the streets of Westminster and into shelters or permanent housing.”

“By being a partner in the homeless outreach program, Officer Emerson has helped City Net build necessary and important relationships so that we can help the homeless succeed and the City of Westminster become a safer place,” Cao said. “Alan has showed continued support by contacting homeless individuals and connecting them with the City Net and other resources.”

Distinguished Service Medals

Deputy Chief Al Panella presented the Lifesaving Award to Officer Malcom Pierson, Officer David Skube, and Officer Abel Jimenez.

“The Lifesaving Award is given to members of the Westminster Police Department who, while serving in an official capacity, distinguish themselves conspicuously by providing lifesaving efforts to a person who, without immediate assistance, would be in eminent risk of death,” Panella said.

Officers Malcolm Pierson, second from left, and David Skube are congratulated by Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas and Deputy Chief Albert Panella, right, as they receive the Lifesaving Award.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Pierson and Skube were dispatched Aug. 5, 2017, to a call for a young child not breathing. The girl had trachea and gastrointestinal tubes attached due to a medical condition. They administered an automated external defibrillator and CPR to try to revive the child.

“For six long minutes, Officer Pierson and Officer Skube, in a combined effort, performed CPR on the young girl,” Panella said. “Sweat dripped from their foreheads and their muscles ached, but giving up was never a thought in their minds.”

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas congratulates Officer Abel Jimenez, right, as he receives the Lifesaving Award.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Eventually, the officers relinquished their duties to Orange County Fire Authority paramedics. The girl was transported to the hospital with her mother in the ambulance. The girl’s 11-year-old sister was unable to go into the ambulance.

“Officer Skube certainly did not want to leave her at home alone, so he took her to the hospital in his police car, trying to reassure her along the way,” Panella said. “The end result of this incident was not what they had hoped for, but that does not diminish the heroic efforts taken by these outstanding officers.”

On May 1, 2017, Jimenez responded to a call of a person threatening to commit suicide by jumping off the Westminster overpass onto the 405 freeway.

“When he arrived, he encountered a male straddling the railing and threatening to jump,” Panella said. “Officer Jimenez began speaking with the man, building a rapport with him. He pointed out the positive things this man had in his life, including the man’s young child. … Officer Jimenez spent over 45 minutes with the man, as the fire department rushed to the location to deploy an inflatable jump pad below him. Ultimately, Officer Jimenez was able to convince the man to step away from the rail and seek help.”

The Medal of Merit was awarded to Sgt. Kevin MacCormick and Sgt. Bill Drinnin for organizing the Westminster Police Officers Memorial Ride to support the Westminster Police Memorial Foundation for fallen and injured officers and their families.

Sgt. Kevin MacCormick, center, and Sgt. Bill Drinnin, right, receive the Medal of Merit from Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“This medal and accompanying uniform ribbon is awarded to members of the Westminster Police Department who demonstrated outstanding individual performance on a specific incident that benefits the Westminster Police Department or the Westminster community,” Panella said. “The Police Officers Memorial Bike Ride involves officers and civilian staff from a variety of agencies throughout the county. They support the ride to honor Lt. Ron Weber, Sgt. Marcus Frank and Officer Steven Phillips and others who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.”

The Police Cross

“This medal and plaque will be awarded to members of the Westminster Police Department who, upon their retirement, have demonstrated a career of outstanding individual performance, which has promoted the good name of the Westminster Police Department throughout the community and beyond, or has significantly advanced the police department operations,” Commander Michael Chapman said.

Karen Ratcliff began her career with the WPD as a dispatcher on Oct. 22, 1977, where she continued for 12 years before moving to the city’s water department for less than a year. Ratcliff then moved to the WPD’s Property Division in February 1989 and continued as a full-time employee until she retired on Dec. 30, 2010. She returned to the Property Division part time from 2011 to 2012 and then was a volunteer for the division from 2012 to 2015.

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas presents Karen Ratcliff with an award for her work for the department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“During her tenure in each division, Karen exemplified the highest levels of professionalism, leadership, integrity and dedication, and as her career progressed, she became one of the most well-respected and beloved employees the department has known,” Chapman said.

Sgt. Marcus Frank was the second recipient of The Police Cross. Frank passed away on October 2007. His award was accepted by his son, Eric, who works for the Brea Police Department.

“Sgt. Frank was hired by the Westminster Police Department in February 1979,” Chapman said. “During his 28-year career, he spent over 19 years dedicated to fighting crime, particularly in regard to the vulnerable refugee population. Sgt. Frank, while hesitating to call himself an expert, was known by police departments across the nation as one of the most knowledgeable sources on Vietnamese organized crime in the United States.”