Smart dogs! I’m going with the Steelers too:)
f the K-9 officers from the Tampa Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are right, the Steelers will bring home the win during Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIII. In a bizarre Tampa tradition, the two agencies put their four-legged officers on the case to sniff out clues as to which team will go all the way.
The Dog Bowl was just one of many unique Super Bowl events scheduled for the Tampa Bay area this week. As the city welcomes thousands of football fans, it’s pulling out all the stops to make sure visitors have a great time before, during and after the game.
Football fans who can’t make it to the Bay Area to enjoy the action, can still bring home a piece of the fun to remember the big game by. A dueling Steelers vs Cardinals Super Bowl 43 gold plated flip coin might even be more reliable for predicting the outcome than three canines with incredibly sensitive noses!
Early this week, the mayor unveiled a new mandate for residents in city of Columbus: “Hug a firefighter if you see one today,” he told reporters Monday.
The mayor continued to sing the praises of the city’s firefighters, whose union representation voted to “save lives—and save jobs,” by foregoing 2009 pay raises they’d already spent hours negotiating.
The decision saved a few million bucks, and helped plug a $90 million hole in the city’s 2009 budget.
“It’s a time of sacrifice and responsibility,” Coleman said, evoking the spirit of President Obama’s inaugural address, adding that he was “sad and disappointed” that four unions, including reps for the police and city hall workers, declined his offer to embrace a new era of responsibility.
But as the week progressed, it turned out the cops weren’t such bad guys, either. They just weren’t as quick to blink in this staring contest—even after Coleman threatened that CPD’s newly trained class of 27 officers would have to be laid off to save cash. By Wednesday, though, there were signs that might not have to happen at all.
The mayor was set to meet with council members yesterday, as The Other Paper was going to press, concerning a proposal prepared by Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 president Jim Gilbert, who said he’s found other ways to help the city cut its remaining $13 million budget deficit, in order to save the 114th class of recruits who were set to graduate Friday.
“The city is stating this is a layoff pending the availability of finding a way to save some money,” said Gilbert. “It’s got to be something the city is willing to take before I take it back to my members. But we’re back at the table and we’re looking at everything.”
The mayor’s office confirmed Wednesday afternoon that it’s hoping to save the recruits, who were told only a day earlier they were being laid off, effective Feb. 27.
“The mayor will be very pleased if $1.25 million could be saved elsewhere so these layoffs would not have to take place,” said the mayor’s spokesman, Dan Williamson
The Wednesday meeting with council also was to address additional cost-cutting measures, including the possibility of other layoffs in other offices. Williamson said the mayor hopes council votes on the measures Feb. 9.
The city has been working on slashing a 2009 city budget deficit of more than $90 million since November. Thus far, some 120 city employees have lost their jobs, and most of the city’s recreation centers have been closed.
On Jan. 14, Coleman asked five of the cities unions to accept pay freezes—or face layoffs— to help eliminate the remaining $13 million deficit. He gave them a Jan. 23 deadline.
Only the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67 agreed to the request, on the condition that it would not “forego” pay raises and bonuses, but merely “suspend” them until further notice. The cooperation prompted the mayor’s figurative hug.
It was a kick in the teeth to police officers, said Gilbert, who had four officers shot and one stabbed in the face in the line of duty in 2008.
“I think that’s an insult to the police officers,” said Gilbert. “And that’s not a slam to the firefighters—they risk their lives too, and the fire union can’t control what the mayor says. But we had four officers that could have been killed (four Columbus officers were shot in the line of duty in 2008) and there was no public outcry from any politician to go hug a cop. It’s a little insulting.”
“We’d look like heroes, too, if the mayor would negotiate raises for us to reject,” said Gilbert.
The FOP, who last received a 4 percent pay increase in December of 2007, claim they were never offered 2009 raises to forego.
“We understand the economic times and we’re sensitive to the city’s needs,” Gilbert said. “Our families have felt that, too. But bring us something we can defer or bring back to the table to offer our members.”
The mayor’s office denies they threw the first pitch in a game of hardball.
“Everybody sat in the same meeting and everybody got the same letter,” said Williamson.
“If everybody had rejected the request, than that might be a legitimate question.”
The mayor gave his ultimatum to the city’s five unions—IAFF, FOP, FOP/Ohio Labor Council, Columbus Municipal Association of Government Employees Local 4502, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
He also made that ultimatum public.
While the mayor’s office was busy hugging firefighters for, as Williamson said, getting “the message”—the FOP, which represents 1,800 police officers, filed an unfair labor practice charge against Coleman with the State Employment Relations Board for using the public to “strong-arm” the union into agreeing to his ultimatum, Gilbert said.
The other four unions weren’t filing complaints, but they weren’t making happy, either. AFSCME, who’s had a contract in place with the city since April, sent a firm “no” to the mayor’s offer Friday, saying it’s paid its dues—500 of its members have been laid off in the last six years.
“We’re not interested,” said Doug Moore, president of AFSCME’s 2,500-member union, comprised of 9-1-1 operators, trash collectors, maintenance workers and office workers. “I think we’ve done our part.”
CMAGE, which represents 1,200 of the city’s technical, professional and supervisory employees, also was in the midst of negotiations when the mayor issued his deadline request. It began negotiations in July; the CMAGE contract expired in August.
“All of us know the kind of economic times we’re living in,” said Brien Bellous, CMAGE president. “The biggest issue for us is the spending. We’re not saying that he hasn’t cut spending, because we see it all over. It’s just that there are many things still out there that need addressed.”
Williamson said if the mayor’s office thought there was extra fat in the budget to cut, he would have done it before he started laying off workers.
“If there was more fat to cut, there wouldn’t have been the closure of the rec centers,” he said. “We cut through the fat, through the skin, and now we’re into the bone.”
Safety services, including police and fire, makes up at least 71 percent of the city’s budget, said Williamson.
CPD deputy chief Walter Distelzweig said there will be no immediate effect on the city’s emergency services if proposed cuts are made, though Columbus residents may see a slow response time on non-emergency services.
“Immediately, I don’t think we’ll see any effect,” he said. “But there will definitely be an impact as we go through the rest of the year.”
The mayor’s office expects there won’t be any impact at all—now or later.
“It’s a matter of smart policing,” said Williamson. “The mayor both trusts and expects his division of police to keep people safe.”
The Scranton Police Department welcomed six new officers into its ranks this morning, swearing in the graduates of what had been the largest pool of applicants since 2003.
With a crowd of family and friends looking on, newly minted Patrolmen Anthony Shields, Patrick Perry, John Munley, Brennan McDermott, Nicholas Hurchick and Robert Hegedus raised their right hands and pledged their service to the city.
Training officer Sgt. Steve Marino beamed as his class of recruits posed for photos and embraced parents. He praised their enthusiasm to get started, shoes still shined and uniforms freshly pressed.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Sgt. Marino said.
The next round of recruits promises to be a much narrower field of candidates.
Last winter, when the city waived a pre-requirement for Act 120 police training, 122 hopefuls applied — the most since 181 signed up in the first year of Mayor Chris Doherty’s administration.
But for a written exam Saturday, the applicants total 21.
Police Chief David Elliott said the flux is normal. He said there are fewer openings — one current and two anticipated — and when the Act 120 requirement is in place there are usually fewer candidates.
But Sgt. Bob Martin, president of the police union, believes there are other factors at play. He said ongoing labor discord with the city is hampering Scranton’s ability to attract quality police.
“There are part-time police officers up and down this valley who are not taking the test, so what does that tell you?” Sgt. Martin said.
As for the newest officers, they will now go through a few weeks of field training.
“I feel like I’ve been in the classroom forever,” said Patrolman Perry of Minooka. “I just want to get on the road.”
Patrolman Hurchick, a Green Ridge native, said the long road was worth it between the first test and today’s induction.
“Today is just a culmination of all that, something I always wanted to do in my life is finally realized,” he said.
Some officers who have trained police dogs here for years are questioning the wisdom of a City Council vote on Jan. 13 to eliminate a police K-9 program to help balance the city’s budget.
If the K-9 program is disbanded during the next few months, it would save about $127,000 annually, said Bernard Gonzales, a police spokesman. However, Gonzales said the program might not face the ax if other types of cuts are carried out or new revenue is found.
“The city needs to cut (the budget) somehow,” said Sgt. John McAvenia, who supervises the K-9 unit, as well as the department’s patrol officers. “We are just hoping we can find ways to save somewhere else.”
McAvenia, who has helped train and manage the department’s police dogs for more than two decades, said cutting the K-9 unit could endanger police officers by requiring them to search buildings on their own.
“We don’t want the (dogs) to get hurt,” McAvenia said, “but it’s better to have a dog injured than an officer.”
“As Chief (Richard) Emerson told the council, they (the dogs) are a very valuable tool for us,” McAvenia said. “The chief also pointed out that dogs can search much better than humans. A dog’s nose is more sensitive than ours.”
The department now has four police dogs and four K-9 officers who care for the animals at their homes and regularly train with them.
“At our height, we had six patrol dogs and coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” McAvenia said.
Each dog has received at least 250 hours in police training – after obedience training, McAvenia said.
Police dogs are generally at least 2 years old when they begin working with the department. Most work in patrol for six to eight years, then retire.
One dog whose career is threatened at the Chula Vista Police Department is Lukas, a 3½ -year-old Belgian Malinois.
The mostly jet-black dog resembles a slender German shepherd and is “fast as lightning,” McAvenia said.
Lukas’ partner, Officer Joel Monreal, speaks in awe of the 65-pound dog’s abilities.
“They know even before going in (a building) where the bad guy is hiding,” he said.
Officer Marcus Macias, a K-9 officer for the National City Police Department who met this month for a joint training session with Chula Vista police, said that dogs are unique among police tools because they can be called back after being sent out to catch a bad guy.
“If we have to shoot a firearm, that is not something we can recall” Macias said.
Lukas proved his worth last month when he caught a suspected kidnapper, carjacker and bank robber from Nevada. The man was seen on Garrett Avenue in Chula Vista on Dec. 15.
“When I spotted the suspect and ordered him to stop, he ran from us,” Monreal recalled. “So, I warned him: ‘I’ll send a police dog and he will bite you.’ ”
Monreal said he gave Lukas the apprehend command, and the dog ran after the suspect and stopped him before he jumped over a fence, biting him on the right forearm.
“The suspect then started yelling: ‘Take the dog off,’ ” Monreal said. “Then he gave up.”
Hundreds of people — from local bands to police officers and firefighters — raised $5,000 for a police officer, his wife and their daughter, who battles a debilitating brain condition that causes seizures.
A Jan. 9 fire destroyed the home of a police officer and his family shortly after the new year began, leaving them to face millions of dollars in medical bills for their 7-year-old daughter without a home.
Clinton police Lt. Gene Mashburn, of Raymond, and his family lost everything.
“I just literally fell to my knees in the front yard begging someone to help us,” said Tiffany Mashburn, the officer’s wife.
Almost three weeks later, communities converged Tuesday night for a concert at Hal and Mals to benefit the Mashburns. The Jackson and Ridgeland police departments, along with the Jackson Fire Department, hosted the event.
Local bands performed for free so money from the $10 cover and $1 from every flame licker sold — a newly created cocktail — went to the family’s benefit fund. Donations to the Gene Mashburn Family Benefit Account may also be made to any local branch of Trustmark National Bank.
Several bands performed, including the Time to Move Band, the Arnold Lindsay Band and Dreamer.
“There are no words for them, (for the) gratification of how special they are to us and how special we are to them,” Gene Mashburn said.
The concert drew people from across the area, some who are friends of the Mashburns and others who wanted to show their support.
“We are the next-door neighbors. I sent out a mass e-mail this (Tuesday) morning to let everyone know about it,” said Kaye Phillips. “I just hope the best for them.”
“This family has gone through an awful lot. God willing, they will come out of it … with our help,” said Jeff Smith, a retired police officer.
Family Plans To Rebuild With Daughter In Mind
Mallory was unable to attend the concert. Her family said loud noises and large groups of people are not good for her. Police held a fundraiser for Mallory in July 2008.
The Mashburns face millions of dollars in medical bills for their 7-year-old daughter, Mallory. Her disease has forced doctors to remove half of her brain.
Mallory continues to go to physical therapy three times a week, and could face more surgery. The family has used all of her insurance benefits.
The family plans to rebuild their home with special additions to help accommodate Mallory, like lower counters and wider spaces to help her get around the house. She is set to return to Ohio for more tests in March.
“When we are struck with tragedy, we pull together to help those officers who are standing alone,” Jackson Deputy Police Chief Lindsey Horton said.
“It’s a good thing,” Jackson Fire Chief Vernon Hughes said. “I’m proud that we can be here to support this officer.”
Mashburns Express Gratitude
Of all the emotions that have flooded the Mashburns since the fire, the emotion they expressed Tuesday night to everyone was gratitude.
“I have an awesome group of friends. All of them are my family — every one of them,” Gene Mashburn said.
A neighbor let the Mashburns move into her house across the street since the fire. Family members plan to submit their story to the ABC show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
The ACLU has asked the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to restrict the use of Tasers in most cases, saying hundreds of people have died nationally after being shocked by the stun guns during encounters with police.
The American Civil Liberties Union delivered a sharply worded 10-page letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens on Tuesday, urging her to limit the department’s use of Tasers to incidents in which there is a threat of “death or serious bodily injury.”
“There’s a real question of what situations you’re going to allow Tasers to be used in, and whether you think it is a lethal force weapon or no,” said Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County office of the ACLU.
“Our initial recommendation is to classify it as a lethal force weapon; if you don’t do it, then we think you have to seriously consider the limitations of its use and application in various circumstances,” he said.
The letter states that since June 2001 more than 320 people across the country have died after being shocked with Tasers. Two Orange County jail inmates died after being shocked with Tasers last year.
Jason Jesus Gomez died April 1, 2008, six days after deputies used a Taser while restraining him at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana. He had been jailed for violating terms of his probation from a 2006 conviction for displaying a firearm and cultivating marijuana.
In October, Michael Patrick Lass died after deputies used a Taser while trying to restrain him at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana. He had been jailed for drinking in public.
An Orange County grand jury report released last year called the recent inmate deaths a “cause of alarm” and said the jail staff used Tasers on 437 inmates from 2004 to 2007.
The Sheriff’s Department implemented a new policy in April that bans deputies from using electronic stun guns on restrained suspects unless an alternative means of control fails to subdue “overtly assaultive behavior.”
But Villagra, who wrote the letter to Hutchens, said the changes are not enough.
“Based on the policy that was implemented in April . . . there’s clearly a number of areas where substantial changes can be made and should be made,” Villagra said.
The letter recommends that the department adopt 12 changes, which include specifying the Taser’s potential dangers, emphasizing the risk of being shocked multiple times or over a prolonged period, limiting the number of officers who can discharge the Taser on a subject at a time and requiring supervisor response and review after Taser use.
The department will review the letter, said spokesman John McDonald.
Taser guns use compressed nitrogen to propel two darts that attach to the body.
The darts are connected to the gun by a wire and deliver a 50,000-volt shock at five-second intervals to incapacitate a subject.
Taser International Inc., which developed and manufactures the weapons, defends the guns as nonlethal.
“You can ask any law enforcement agency, deadly force is deadly force,” said Steve Tuttle, a company spokesman.
But “I would have to agree with the ACLU that good policies and good training are critical to successful Taser programs,” he said.
Washoe County law enforcement is responsible for saving the life of a 14-month-old Spanish Springs child, according to officials.
At 12:08 a.m. on Wednesday, a deputy patrolling the Spanish Springs area arrived at a home on Monumental Circle and administered CPR to a baby that had stopped breathing, according to a release issued from Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Brooke Keast.
The deputy was responding to garbled reports called in to dispatch from the home that the child had turned blue, according to Keast.
After reviving the child, dispatchers said they could hear the it crying in the background when the deputy called in that the “child was breathing again.”
REMSA and the fire department responded shortly thereafter, Keast said, and expressed praise for the quick actions of the deputy.
“When a situation like this occurs training kicks in,” Sheriff Michael Haley said. It is not every day we get to save a life, but when we do, we feel just as elated as the family.”
Two new dogs and dog handlers could join the Green Bay Police Department’s canine program by April, if fundraising efforts are successful.
The department is about halfway to its goal of raising $20,000 in private donations toward acquiring and training two dogs and hiring two handlers, Chief Jim Arts said Wednesday.
The handlers would be selected from the department’s police officers who have requested the assignment, Arts said.
The plan is to have one of the new dogs trained to work with a community police officer in narcotic searches in a 7 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. shift. Twelve community police officers are assigned to specific geographic areas of the city, and a six-person task force works on community policing issues throughout the city. The new dog and dog handler would be assigned to that task force.
The other new dog would be trained to search for drugs, missing persons and suspects, and for assisting in arrests. The dog and handler would work normal patrol duties on the afternoon shift, 2:15 to 10:45 p.m.
The new dogs and handlers would join a team of three dogs and handlers that has been working in the city since 2001. The team includes one drug dog and two trained in a wider variety of tasks.
The department hopes to acquire the dogs, assign the officers and have them begin training April 20.
Start-up costs, which include purchase, training, veterinary bills, dog food and similar expenses, would be about $20,000 for the year, Arts said. Maintaining the addition to the program should cost no more than about $4,000 a year thereafter, he said.
Steinig Tal Kennels of Campbellsport will supply the dogs and training, which involves up to 24 weeks for the dogs alone and three to four weeks for the dogs and their handlers.
The department’s personnel costs won’t change, because the dog handlers would come from existing police staff, and they’ll continue to perform the normal duties of police officers along with their dog-handling duties.
The announced expansion comes just a year after Arts had threatened to shut down the canine program out of concerns that it was too expensive.
He struck the program from the 2008 budget but reinstated it after renegotiations with the police union over its labor contract. Previously, dog handlers were treated differently under the contract from other police officers, resulting in scheduling and vacation issues that Arts said added to the cost of the canine program.
The police union made several concessions that brought those dog handlers’ schedules more in line with what other officers faced, and that brought expenses down and increased management’s flexibility, Arts said.
The program expansion wouldn’t be possible without the union’s concessions, he said.
A police officer’s K-9 partner is back at work after a violent car accident put them both in the hospital.
Colorado Springs Police Officer Brent Ambuehl and his two-and-a-half year-old dog, Hunter, were traveling in a police SUV when another driver hit it. The accident, at the intersection of Academy and Austin Bluffs in December, flipped the police SUV.
Officer Ambuehl was sent to the hospital with minor injuries. Hunter, however, was admitted into intensive care at a nearby veterinarian hospital for one night.
“He’s (Hunter) your partner and when something like this happens, it’s just like losing another one of your buddies on patrol,” Officer Ambuehl says.
Hunter, a Dutch Shepherd, is not just a pet – rather a valued member of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s K-9 team. Hunter is one of nine police dogs used often by police.
“If we’ve got a building with forced entry, we’re probably going to use a dog because he’s going to tell me and my cover officers where the bad guy is before we get right on him.”
Officer Ambuehl was able to get out of the police SUV after it was hit to check on the other driver. Ambuehl’s fellow officers helped get Hunter out of the police car.
“That night, my wife picked me up and went down to the hospital before I went home. He (Hunter) was fully sedated, tongue out and just out of it – and that’s tough to see your partner that way, it really is, just like you’d never want to see an officer hurt.”
Attorney General Bill McCollum today named Lieutenant Michael Howell, formerly of the Department of Transportation (DOT), as the recipient of the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award for 2008. Lieutenant Howell, now serving with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, was joined by 12 fellow officers from around the state at a ceremony recognizing them for their dedication to law enforcement and their protection of the public.
“I am honored to be among the very best of Florida’s law enforcement community today,” Attorney General McCollum said at the ceremony honoring the nominees. “These men and women have made the safety and security of our state and our families their top priority, and for that they deserve our heartfelt honor and respect.”
Lieutenant Howell served as a member of the DOT Motor Carrier Compliance Office’s Contraband Interdiction Program for eight years and was the program’s lead K-9 instructor. In 2008, Lieutenant Howell – then Officer Howell – performed 604 safety inspections, issued 93 safety reports, removed 71 unfit commercial drivers and 80 unsafe vehicles from Florida’s roadways, and made 48 criminal arrests. According to the Department of Transportation, these actions directly reduced the number of commercial vehicle crashes and related fatalities in Florida.
On October 12, 2008, Officer Howell stopped a commercial motor vehicle to conduct a vehicle inspection. Suspecting criminal activity, he deployed a K-9 Unit to sniff the vehicle, and the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics. A subsequent search revealed 150 kilos of cocaine with a street value of approximately $3 million, as well as $3,000 in cash. Two suspects were arrested on trafficking charges and the truck and trailer were seized.
he Department of Transportation noted that as a result of his dedication, resourcefulness and initiative, Lieutenant Howell is responsible for the largest seizure of marijuana and one of the largest seizures of cocaine in the history of the Motor Carrier Compliance Office.
Each nominee for the Attorney General’s award had previously been recognized as an “Officer of the Year” by a Florida law enforcement agency or organization that sponsors such a statewide award. Deputy Howell was nominated by virtue of his selection by the Department of Transportation.
A selection committee appointed by the Attorney General considered the distinguished group of nominees from state agencies and organizations including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the State Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, the Florida Gang Investigators Association and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
Howell is the fifth recipient of the Attorney General’s annual award. Last year’s recipient was Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Tammy Roane. The 2006 recipient was Detective Sergeant Contento of the Tampa Police Department and the 2005 recipient was Detective Kevin Kuschel of the Palm Beach County School District Police Department. The recipient in 2004 was Tallahassee Police Officer Chuck Perry, and Marion County Deputy Sheriff Mike Rolls was honored as the first recipient of the award in 2003.
A list of the other nominees and their accomplishments is as follows:
Nominated by the Florida Police Chiefs Association – Detective Nelson Camacho
Detective Camacho has consistently been recognized by the North Miami Beach Police Department as an outstanding officer, having received three Officer of the Month awards as well as being named 2006 Officer of the Year. During his 12-year career, his keen sense of observation and uncanny ability of locating criminals in the act of committing crimes have resulted in numerous arrests. In several instances during the past year, he was instrumental in apprehending individuals responsible for large numbers of armed robberies in the North Miami Beach area.
Nominated by the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida Lodge – Hialeah Police Officer Gabriel Casco
Police Officer Gabriel Casco is an eight-year veteran of the Hialeah Police Department. On October 26, 2007, in a selfless act of courage, Officer Casco saved the life of a child trapped in a burning apartment. Though he was off duty at the time, he responded to a call and found the apartment fully engulfed in flames. Climbing onto a second story balcony, he managed to gain entry to the apartment, located the child in a bedroom and brought the child to safety. Officer Casco’s actions represent the highest degree of dedication and service to his community.
Nominated by the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Law Enforcement – Corporal Daniel Dickson
During his eight-year career, Corporal Dickson has proven to be an exceptional asset to his department. His emphasis on suppressing property crimes created a more secure park environment, with an 80 percent decrease in burglaries of a conveyance at Wekiwa Springs State Park over the past year. His outstanding interpersonal skills led to the formation of an interagency environmental task force which improved communication and cooperation among several state and federal agencies and local law enforcement offices. Additionally, acting upon information provided by a confidential informant, he worked with the Bureau of Environmental Investigations to locate and eradicate a marijuana cultivation plot on DEP state lands.
Nominated by the State Law Enforcement Chiefs Association – State Trooper Joshua Earrey
Having served almost eight years with the Florida Highway Patrol, Trooper Joshua Earrey is currently assigned to Troop G Contraband Interdiction Team as a K-9 handler. As a member of the North Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, Trooper Earrey has seized 10.5 kilos of powder cocaine, 1.5 pounds of crack cocaine, 83.5 pounds of marijuana, 2.5 ounces of heroin, 250 grams of methamphetamines, over $277,000 and 23 firearms, while making over 1,200 traffic citations and 280 drug-related charges over the past year. Information obtained as a result of Trooper Earrey’s arrests resulted in a search warrant being issued on a target of a Mexican drug cartel, which led in the seizure of
47 pounds of marijuana, a half kilo of cocaine, $18,000, and a handgun.
Nominated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Wildlife Federation – Wildlife Officer Robert Johnston
Though Officer Johnston has been with the Fish and Wildlife Commission fewer than five years, he has quickly risen to the top in terms of his work ethic, knowledge of the natural areas and resources in his jurisdiction and leadership abilities. He patrols vast amounts of land and water in the Levy County area, working in five wildlife management areas and the network of waters surrounding Cedar Key. Last year, he participated in eight search and rescue missions, many under the worst conditions. His enforcement of the laws and education efforts ensure the safety of all outdoor enthusiasts and protection of Florida’s natural resources.
Nominated by the Florida Retail Federation – Detective James Ostojic
During his 13-year career with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Detective Ostojic has a proven track record. While investigating approximately $4,500 in retail theft of beauty products from a grocery store chain, he recognized it was not an isolated incident, but part of a multi-million dollar retail theft ring. In cooperation with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, a full-scale investigation revealed teams of thieves stealing thousands of dollars worth of products at each stop, hitting numerous stores several days a week, and selling the items to third parties. Losses to retail outlets over a five-year period were estimated at nearly $100 million. In January 2008, search warrants were served in a three-county area, resulting in 18 arrests and criminal charges of racketeering.
Nominated by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud – Detective Theodore Padich
With over 10 years of service with the Department of Financial Services, Detective Padich has become an expert in the field of mortgage fraud, a growing criminal trend with severe financial impacts on citizens and communities as well as banking and lending institutions. His initiative and innovation have resulted in the development of a streamlined system of mortgage fraud investigation. During the past fiscal year, Detective Padich’s investigative work resulted in seven convictions on four mortgage fraud cases, which led to a combined $1.75 million in court-ordered restitution. Through his diligence and resourcefulness, Detective Padich identified dozens of additional victims of an organized mortgage fraud scheme involving condominium purchases in the Orlando area valued at over $8 million dollars.
Nominated by the Florida Gang Investigators Association – Detective Garrick Plonczynski
Detective Plonczynski is the senior investigator in the Gang Unit of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Serving five of his 10 years with the department in this capacity, Detective Plonczynski has dedicated his life and career to combating gang crime in his community. He has been recognized for his resourcefulness and ingenuity in utilizing the internet to identify and track gang members and activity. Detective Plonczynski was also vital in identifying a suspect in the murder of an innocent 9-year-old victim of gang-related crime, knowing only the suspected shooter’s first name. Detective Plonczynski is also a member of the Attorney General’s Tampa Bay Gang Reduction Task Force and dedicates much of his personal time to teaching law enforcement and civilians about combating gang violence and crime in their community.
Nominated by the Florida Police Chiefs Association – Corporal Brent Tyler
A member of the Fruitland Park Police Department for over six years, Corporal Tyler serves as a K-9 officer. He has quickly proven to be an asset to his department and the community, often going above and beyond to provide assistance to other local law enforcement agencies during his off duty hours by aiding in drug searches and tracking. Last year, when a large tornado struck the area, Officer Tyler came to the scene and, with another officer, saved the life of a paralyzed man who was buried in the rubble. He also recently arrested a drug dealer for trafficking in cocaine and methamphetamine, which led to the seizure of over a kilogram of drugs, additional arrests, and an end to the supply of these drugs in a five-county area for a significant amount of time.
Nominated by the Department of Financial Services, State Fire Marshal’s Office – Detective Michael Vitta
Detective Vitta is a member of the Fire Marshal’s Honor Guard and represents the office on many formal occasions. During the past year, Detective Vitta investigated 119 fires, of which 83 were arson. His investigations resulted in 13 arrests in 11 arson cases. In July 2007, Detective Vitta identified a juvenile diagnosed with autism as a fire setter and over the course of several months, determined this individual was responsible for several other small fires started in the area. Detective Vitta took the juvenile into custody, but spoke at the first court appearance on his and indicated the need for placement in a proper medical facility rather than a correctional setting. Due to Detective Vitta’s perseverance, the juvenile was placed in a permanent group home in November 2008.
Nominated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – Special Agent Ellen Wilcox
A 29-year FDLE veteran, Special Agent Wilcox has become a nationally-recognized expert in the field of mortgage fraud. A member of the FBI Mortgage Fraud Task Force/Tampa Bay, Special Agent Wilcox works with numerous law enforcement agencies, as well as regulatory and private sector organizations, to combat mortgage fraud and economic crimes. As a certified fraud examiner, she led a joint investigation with the Tampa Police Department, Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency, Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services, and the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution into allegations of mortgage fraud which led to the arrests of 10 defendants charged with numerous offenses including racketeering, grand theft, and obtaining mortgages by false representation. Due to her hard work and dedication, an $18 million fraud operation has been dismantled.
Nominated by the Florida Highway Patrol – Trooper Thomas Winders
A member of the force since 2004, Trooper Winders is currently assigned to Troop E Contraband Interdiction Team as a K-9 officer. In June 2007, Trooper Winders and Trooper Christopher Zarazinski arrived on the scene of a vehicle crash in Palm Beach County where a vehicle had become submerged in a deep canal. With no regard for his personal safety, Trooper Winders entered the water to rescue the victims. Neither victim was breathing when brought to shore, but CPR was administered and both were revived and airlifted to an area hospital. Ultimately, only one survived the accident, but without Trooper Winders’ courageous actions, both victims would certainly have been lost.