Class of 2020-2021

U.S. Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing

Congratulations to the recipients of the Attorney General’s Awards for Distinguished Service in Policing, acknowledging the exceptional work of law enforcements officers, deputies and troopers from jurisdictions across the country. Each of the officers, deputies and troopers honored has demonstrated commitment to exceptional policing in the cities, towns and localities where they serve. Through their excellent service and dedication to professional, impartial and effective policing, these individuals are having a transformational impact on their agencies by embracing policing strategies that build and strengthen trust and mutual cooperation between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

The Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing recognizes individual state, local or tribal sworn police officers, deputies and troopers who exemplify remarkable achievements in innovative community policing strategies, criminal investigations, and field operations.  In the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies throughout the country, the everyday work of individual officers, deputies and troopers often goes unsung.  To remedy this, Attorney General Lynch announced the creation of this award in 2016 to honor the outstanding work of rank-and-file law enforcement.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS

Sergeant Kurt Berardino and Sergeant Christopher Perez, Miami-Dade (FL) Police Department

In July 2020, a ShotSpotter alert showed that 21 shots had been fired on a Miami street. The aftermath left a seven-year-old dead and another child and two adults injured. Detectives Kurt Berardino and Christopher Perez (now both sergeants) immersed themselves in the subsequent investigation, poring over multiple Crime Stoppers tips, reviewing hours of surveillance footage, and questioning potential witnesses. As Berardino and Perez developed the case, they established a rapport with two of the survivors, and those survivors provided a positive identification of the subjects involved in the shooting. This positive identification was key in furthering other leads that were gathered. Evidence collected was crucial in solidifying victim statements and the timeline of the events. Arrest warrants were eventually issued, and in September 2020 the detectives traveled to Georgia, where one suspect was taken into custody and later confessed; a second suspect was also arrested. It was the tenacity, persistence, and determination of Detectives Berardino and Perez that closed this case and brought justice to the families of the victims and to the community.

Detective Victor Powell and Detective Jonathan Smith, Norfolk (VA) Police Department

In September 1980, a woman was found dead in her Norfolk apartment, a victim of a brutal murder. Despite an investigation at the time, no solid leads into the case were developed until cold case Detectives Victor Powell and Jonathan Smith took on the case 38 years later and pursued a DNA analysis. The results showed a potential suspect in Michigan. Powell and Smith conducted numerous witness interviews, then obtained a warrant and arrested the suspect. The suspect was extradited to Norfolk and eventually confessed to the 1980 murder. He also admitted to previously unresolved, uncharged sexual assaults between 1976 and 1977 in San Diego, California. In the summer of 2020, the defendant pled guilty to first-degree murder, rape, and burglary arising from the brutal attack on the victim in 1980 and was sentenced to a life term of imprisonment on both the first-degree murder and the rape convictions and a term of 20 years in prison on the burglary conviction. Also, as a result of the resolution of the case in Norfolk, the state of Michigan was able to return the defendant to the state to stand trial for pending charges related to the 1989 death of his adopted daughter. Smith and Powell’s dedication to this investigation brought great credit to the Norfolk Police Department from across the United States and brought peace to a family who fought for justice for 40 years.

†Detective Powell, a 31-year veteran of the Norfolk Police Department, passed away May 21, 2020; he is remembered for his outstanding service to the department.

Detective Ben Pender, Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (UT)

In November 2010, a woman was found brutally murdered in her South Salt Lake, Utah bookstore. The scene was processed and fingerprints, a palm print, and DNA were recovered, which later provided a profile of an unknown male suspect. In 2018, cold case Detective Ben Pender worked with a genetic genealogist and was eventually given more than 300 names for target testing. Pender researched their names and addresses, ultimately traveled to eight states, and fostered relationships with 50 target test subjects, who provided swabs for DNA testing. In the fall of 2020, Pender was provided a close genetic match with the DNA left at the crime scene and eventually identified the name of a suspect. Pender worked with detectives from the Major Investigations Unit (MIU) to conduct surveillance on the suspect and collect a DNA sample, which turned out to be a match. Pender arrested the suspect, who admitted to the murder and provided critical details. If not for Pender’s tenacious efforts, this homicide might never have been solved and a grieving family might still not have found justice. Pender has closed several unresolved homicides and missing persons cases and worked homicides for other agencies. In addition, in 2018 he organized the first annual Hope Conference for families of unresolved homicide victims, during which participants learned that every open unresolved case would be examined no less often than every 18 months.

Detective-Sergeant Jeffrey Araujo and Major Christopher Reed, Central Falls (RI) Police Department

In July 2007, a cab driver was shot in his cab and died by the time he was transported to the hospital. Witnesses reported seeing three young men run from the scene, some tossing their baseball caps as they ran. When processing the scene, Detective (now Detective-Sergeant) Jeffrey Araujo and Detective (now Major) Christopher Reed discovered two baseball caps in the vicinity of the shooting. The detectives later spoke with the victim’s wife, who said she was on the phone with her husband just before the shooting. She said her husband had called to say he was not comfortable with the three men in his taxi and wanted to keep her on the phone in case something went wrong. Shortly after, his wife heard a struggle and the phone disconnected.

Detectives Araujo and Reed were later contacted by a confidential informant, who identified a man he said had shot the driver; they also received information about the other two men in the car. Through their diligent efforts over the years, in May 2017 the detectives spoke with a subject who wanted to provide information on the case. At the same time, the detectives spoke with another individual who reported the suspects had talked about the murder the day after it happened. Araujo and Reed then resubmitted both baseball hats and requested they be tested against the profiles of the three suspects. There was a match, and with this and other evidence, the detectives secured an indictment. After a trial, the suspect was convicted and sentenced. Because of the detectives’ tenacious work, the victim’s children and family were able to see that justice was finally served.

FIELD OPERATIONS

Deputy Sarah Merriman, Richland County (SC) Sheriff’s Department

When Deputy Sarah Merriman was dispatched to a call for a domestic dispute in progress, she was told in advance that the suspect had a firearm and had already assaulted a woman. Upon her arrival, she saw a very agitated man with a shotgun in his hand, and one of several women on the scene was bleeding profusely from her head. Merriman had to decide instantly whether to draw her weapon; recognizing the subject’s state of mind, she chose to talk to him. She pleaded with him to drop the weapon—and once additional patrol deputies arrived and aimed their guns at him, she encouraged him to focus on talking to her. The suspect taunted Merriman for several minutes, yelling at her to pull her weapon and shoot him. Finally, Merriman was able to calm him down and he lowered the shotgun; she then took him into custody. Deputy Merriman’s actions exemplify what it is to be a guardian. Her ability to recognize the individual’s state of mind—and her realization that drawing her weapon would escalate the situation—prevented a tragic outcome and saved at least one life that day.

Officer Kristen Schmidt, Portland (OR) Police Bureau

Officer Kristen Schmidt, part of the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team at the Portland Police Bureau, responded to a call from the local Humane Society, where a woman trying to recover her cats from the shelter had become belligerent. Schmidt did not know at the time that the woman was in the midst of an extended period of psychosis; the sudden appearance of several uniformed officers, an ambulance, and staff from a community health agency exacerbated her condition.

In an effort to calm the situation, Officer Schmidt sat with the woman and patiently explained the need to go to the hospital. When the ambulance driver told the woman to get on the gurney and her agitation returned, Schmidt then drove the woman to the hospital herself. She talked to her during the drive; the woman reported, “She treated me with dignity and respect and looked for ways to connect with me.”

Officer Schmidt kept in touch with the woman during her three-week hospitalization, picked her up when she was released, and drove her to the shelter to retrieve her dog, who had also been left there. The woman said she felt treated with “compassion and humanity.” A year after the incident, the woman met Schmidt at the precinct to express her gratitude and share how differently she felt that day could have gone if Schmidt had not been the officer on the scene. She believes that Schmidt is a powerful role model for sensitive and compassionate police work for people in vulnerable situations.

Officer Travis Allen and Officer Brendan Fowler, Irving (TX) Police Department

In the winter of 2021, officers responded to a call of a drowning in progress. A family had ventured out onto an ice-covered canal to take photos, but the father and mother had fallen through the ice into the frigid waters. When Officer Brendan Fowler arrived on the scene, he threw a lifeline to both, telling them to wrap it around themselves to remain above water. Officer Travis Allen arrived next and communicated with Fowler to develop a rescue plan. The fire department arrived and slid two ladders out onto the ice, but the woman was succumbing to the cold and began to go under. Allen immediately crawled out on the ladder and held the woman’s face above the water. A firefighter crawled out on the other ladder just as the ice broke under Allen, dumping him into the water. Allen and the firefighter, now exposed to the extremely cold water, worked quickly and managed to lift the woman onto a ladder. Other officers who were now on the scene made sure that everyone was attached to the ladder and pulled the ladder onto the shore. The husband was responsive, but the wife was unresponsive and showed signs of hypothermia onset. They were then transported to the hospital, where both recovered. If it were not for the quick response and heroic actions taken by Allen and Fowler, the outcome could have been very different.

Officer Cody Hubbard, Pottsville (AR) Police Department

In May 2021, Officer Cody Hubbard responded to a call of a cardiac arrest of a three-week-old child who was not breathing. Immediately upon his arrival, Hubbard began life-saving efforts and started the Heimlich maneuver for infants. The baby soon began to cry and breathe on his own. The Pope County emergency medical services team then arrived and took over the scene. Hubbard was awarded the department’s Life Saving Award for his actions. Under a very stressful situation, he was able to retain, recall, and apply the lifesaving training he had received. Officer Hubbard saved a young life and earned the respect of the community.

INNOVATIONS IN COMMUNITY POLICING

Detective Latosha Prather, Detective Khary Ricketts, and Detective Dan-nae Webber, DeKalb County (GA) Police Department

Detective Latosha Prather, Detective Khary Ricketts, and Detective Dan-nae Webber’s work for the Police Athletic League (PAL) has taken their outreach efforts to new heights and helped many children stay connected in the process. This was especially true during the summer of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic threatened to leave at-risk youth with no summer programs. The detectives implemented a Virtual Summer Academy that connected participants via Zoom, Instagram, and Facebook, focusing on mentorship, education, and athletics. Community leaders, teachers and coaches, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and other nonprofits partnered with the PAL to make this innovative event happen. The program reached a total of 1,018 children and adults. When the summer ended, the unit launched its Back to School Backpack Giveaway, providing supplies to students who otherwise would have had trouble getting them. Next was the second annual virtual Gaming with a Cop event, to keep students busy while they were out of school for the President’s Day holiday. The event allowed kids to bond with DeKalb County police officers while competing against them in live video games.

When officers began noticing children on the ramps of the interstates selling bottled water, they knew this was both a safety hazard and a potential breeding ground for other crimes. The detectives of the DeKalb County PAL once again put their heads together and implemented a Career Development Program—a four-month life skills program to provide students with personal growth opportunities and to prepare them for future careers. PAL partnered with Georgia Piedmont Technical College, local entrepreneurs, youth mentors, volunteers, and other police department support units. After the first session, eight of the nine participants were helped through the interview process and are now employed, with the remaining participant enrolling in the Georgia Piedmont College dual enrollment program.

Deputy Sheriff Joseph Angelico, Martin County (FL) Sheriff’s Office

Since joining the Community Oriented Policing Unit in 2005, Deputy Sheriff Joseph Angelico has established excellent relationships with the community and earned the trust of community members, who often provide him with critical information. A recent example occurred in May 2021, when a local restaurant fire was declared a case of arson. Within days, Angelico had identified the suspect.

Deputy Sheriff Angelico views problems as challenges, and his goal is looking for solutions. For example, Angelico sought a proactive solution to the problem of crime in the summer, when the beach community is flooded with tourists. He coordinated countless hours of all-terrain vehicle beach patrols and bicycle parking lot patrols, giving out Criminal Opportunity Reports to visitors to educate them and enlist them in crime prevention efforts.

Deputy Sheriff Angelico has also established a strong working relationship with the local Department of Human Services to work on helping the homeless population. One homeless Navy veteran, who consistently refused services and shelter, now has both housing and a new outlook on life because of Angelico’s compassion and tireless work.

Deputy Sheriff Angelico especially made his skills work for the community during the pandemic, when he spearheaded many small operations. He used a substation facility at the local mall to meet with community members, answering their questions and giving them information. He was also actively involved in assisting with numerous protests during the summer of 2020, allowing protesters to voice their concerns while also preventing violence. His professionalism and dedication are unparalleled, and his knowledge and experience in community policing have established him as a leader and mentor to others in the office.

Officer Tom Hart, Walpole (MA) Police Department

Officer Tom Hart’s community policing efforts have gone a long way toward building relationships between law enforcement and the community in Walpole, and his efforts have had an impact well beyond the city limits. Hart joined the department in 2013 after a career as a special education teacher. He quickly became involved in many community policing initiatives involving Walpole’s youth. He initially served as a mentor to Walpole schools, with a focus on positive interactions with children who suffer from developmental disabilities. Hart’s efforts include a “positive ticket” campaign to reward “kids caught doing right”; a basketball-cop program, where officers play sports with area youth; and a ride to school program, where each month a student is given a full police escort from his or her home to school. Hart also serves as a leader in the Student Police Advisory Council, and he leads a community-based crisis intervention team that assists with finding resources for those with mental illness.

Officer Hart’s efforts to bridge the gap between Walpole’s youth and the police department resulted in him being named a school resource officer in 2017. He hit the ground running and established the Walpole Junior Police Academy, where middle school students spend a week learning about discipline, physical fitness, and police functions. He also took students with learning disabilities on a field trip to visit an organization called Golden Opportunities for Independence (GOFI), which trains service dogs for a variety of needs.

The visit was so well received  that Officer Hart began discussing the idea of police using service dogs as an ice breaker, as well as to assist individuals when responding to traumatic incidents. Hart received approval from town officials, and GOFI donated a golden retriever named “Rebel” to the police. The program has proved such a success that a number of other departments in the state now have a service dog assigned to them, and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office announced that they would be funding a grant to purchase service dogs for other jurisdictions. Other states have also expressed an interest in replicating the program. Hart’s innovative ideas have proved invaluable in furthering the department’s community policing efforts (and Rebel, the service dog, has now become the face of the Walpole Police Department).

Officer Danielle St. Peter, Barnstable (MA) Police Department

Officer Danielle St. Peter’s commitment to the Barnstable Police Community Impact Unit (CIU) has had a tremendous impact on the community of Barnstable. The CIU works with partner agencies to bring medical care, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, and housing services to homeless and disadvantaged populations. St. Peter routinely assumes the role of case manager, counselor, and problem solver by using an individualized approach to de-escalate tense situations and connect people with services tailored to their needs.

In the fall of 2020, the CIU received information about a mother with mental illness living with her baby in a homeless camp. Officer St. Peter forged a relationship with the young mother, building trust with her over a period of time, and removing the fear of criminal enforcement. She connected her with the appropriate services and eventually was able to move the mother and child into more suitable housing, watching as their quality of life improved dramatically.

Recently, Officer St. Peter skillfully managed a tense situation, as police officers tried to persuade a mentally ill woman who was living in her car to leave her vehicle for a psychiatric committal. Using compassion and skills honed over time, St. Peter provided comfort to the scared woman and deescalated the situation. She ultimately oversaw her transfer to a care facility and reconnected with her after treatment, helping her to secure temporary housing and get the mental health treatment she needed. Because of St. Peter’s compassion, care, and philosophy of community policing, the woman remains stabilized and they communicate regularly. St. Peter’s upbeat attitude, conflict resolution skills, patience, and work ethic are all part of her extreme effectiveness and a true demonstration of community policing.

Officer Tamrah Stepien, East Windsor (CT) Police Department

Since joining the department in 2011, Officer Tamrah Stepien has excelled at her many efforts to build relationships with the community, beginning with her role as a school resource officer. She became certified in crisis intervention training and has demonstrated skill and leadership in that role. Stepien also serves on the Multi-Jurisdictional Team Task Force, where she has demonstrated her compassion and professionalism in rape crisis work and domestic violence intervention. When Stepien approached her chief about pursuing a master’s degree in social work, he knew what a valuable asset that would be for the department. On her own time, Stepien pursued the degree and graduated with honors, also completing 900 clinical hours and other requirements to become a master’s level social worker in the state of Connecticut.

In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Connecticut adopted a comprehensive police accountability law, one component of which requires each law enforcement agency to design a means of integrating social workers into policing. Because of Officer Stepien, the East Windsor Police Department is in the unique position of integrating a police officer into social work. Now, the department is establishing a new mental health team that will be housed in the department and will be responsible for early intervention in mental health calls. Stepien will lead this new unit, which will integrate the town’s Youth Services Bureau and work closely with the department’s school resource officer and with social workers from the school district. The unit will also provide enhanced peer support in the police department to proactively address mental health concerns among officers. Stepien’s compassion for her community, her training, and her experience are helping make East Windsor’s mental health unit a model for the state of Connecticut.

Updated April 11, 2022

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