The Justice Department today announced the recipients of the Fifth Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing. This year’s awards recognize the exceptional work of 18 law enforcement officers and deputies from 12 jurisdictions across the country.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the award recipients in Atlanta. Later, he attended a ceremony for three award recipients from the DeKalb County Police Department.
“The work of law enforcement has always been difficult — but perhaps no more so than in the recent past, as officers have faced a host of significant challenges. The officers and deputies receiving this year’s awards demonstrate how so many go above and beyond, even in the midst of trying circumstances,” said Attorney General Garland. “Every day, thousands of people who work in law enforcement forge and maintain strong community ties that are essential for ensuring public safety. The recipients of this award represent quintessential examples of such critical efforts. It is an honor to recognize them.”
The Attorney General’s Award recognizes individual state, local, Tribal, and territorial police officers, deputies, and troopers for exceptional efforts in community policing. The awarded officers and deputies have demonstrated active engagement with the community in one of three areas: innovations in community policing, criminal investigations, or field operations. This year, the Department received 185 nominations from 145 agencies, recognizing a total of 347 individual officers, deputies, and troopers. There were 39 states represented in the nomination pool, covering state, local, campus, sheriff, and other agency types.
The work being honored this year reflects numerous examples of law enforcement officers working closely with the community to build trust, solve problems, reduce crime, and improve public safety.
The Department of Justice works closely with national law enforcement stakeholder groups during the award review period, taking advantage of their expertise and experience to determine the recipients in a competitive nomination process. The Department also works closely with its components, utilizing the breadth of knowledge within the Department to ensure a successful program that honors the exceptional service of our nation’s law enforcement officers and deputies.
Attorney General Awards for Distinguished Service in Community Policing 2021
INNOVATIONS IN COMMUNITY POLICING
Detective Latosha Prather, Detective Khary Ricketts, and Detective Dan-nae Webber, DeKalb County (Georgia) 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 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, 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 Presidents’ 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 selling bottled water on interstate ramps, 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 (Florida) 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. During the summer of 2020, he also worked hard to allow protesters to voice their concerns while preventing violence and ensuring public safety. 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 (Massachusetts) 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 in 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 (Massachusetts) Police Department
Officer Danielle St. Peter’s commitment to the Barnstable Police Community Impact Unit (CIU) has dramatically benefited local residents. 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 addressing her 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 de-escalated 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 part of her extreme effectiveness and a true demonstration of community policing.
Sergeant Kurt Berardino and Sergeant Christopher Perez, Miami-Dade (Florida) 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. The investigation revealed that the victims were returning home from shopping and were fired on as they were getting out of their car. 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 (Virginia) Police Department
In September 1980, a woman was brutally murdered in her Norfolk apartment. 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, on the basis of which they 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 pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, rape, and burglary arising from the brutal attack on the victim in 1980. The court sentenced the defendant to a life term of imprisonment on both the first-degree murder and the rape convictions, and 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 (Utah)
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 and sent letters to those individuals across the country, requesting voluntary participation in the investigation. He ultimately traveled to eight states and was able to foster 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.
After more research and questioning potential relatives, Detective Pender identified the name of a suspect. Pender worked with detectives from the Major Investigations Unit to conduct surveillance on the suspect and collect a DNA sample, which turned out to be a match with the DNA collected at the murder scene. 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 (Rhode Island) 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. The detectives also received information about the other two men in the car. The detectives continued to pursue the investigation over the years but lacked hard evidence. Through their continued efforts, however, in May 2017, the detectives spoke with a subject who wanted to talk about the taxi driver’s murder and provided information on the suspects who were involved. 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 thanks to this match and other evidence, the detectives secured an indictment. After a trial, the suspect was convicted and sentenced. Although the victim’s wife had passed away in the interim, because of the detectives’ tenacious work, the victim’s children and family were able to see that justice was finally served.
Deputy Sarah Merriman, Richland County (South Carolina) 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 outside of the residence, 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 (Oregon) Police Bureau
Officer Kristen Schmidt is part of the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team at the Portland Police Bureau. She 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 (Texas) 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 out 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 (Arkansas) 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.