Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
The 48th annual Police Awards Ceremony honoring Long Beach Police Department employees and community members was held at Cal State Long Beach Wednesday evening, awarding a Purple Heart for the first time in four years to an officer shot in the line of duty last year.
“I am very, very proud of our community and police department for their work,” Mayor Robert Garcia said during the ceremony. “Long Beach is a community that supports our police department 100 percent […] thank you for making our community safer and for making us proud.”
Garcia was in turn thanked for his efforts in helping pass measures A and B, which together will require a sales-tax increase that will generate revenue to repair the city’s infrastructure and restock its public safety agencies, including the LBPD and Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD).
“If it wasn't for that team work we may not have been able to get this done,” LBPD Chief Robert Luna said of Garcia’s managerial personnel who helped pass the measures. “It really shows how much you [Garcia] truly support the members of this police department.”
The Long Beach Police Foundation, which hosted the event, was presented with a $10,000 check by members of Goodwill SOLAC Serving the People of Southern Los Angeles County.
“We’re here just to acknowledge and appreciate the good work that our police department does and the good work that our police foundation does,” said Goodwill SOLAC Board of Trustees Chairman Harry Saltzgaver, who is also executive editor of the Gazettes.
Tag-teaming the award presentations were Deputy Chief Michael Beckman and retiring Deputy Chief Richard Rocchi who received a standing ovation by the audience when it was announced.
Notable awardees include Purple Heart recipient Officer Joseph Garces who was struck by a bullet on his left shoulder during a shootout with a suspect in North Long Beach last June. During a search for the suspect at an apartment complex the assailant came out of the building firing at officers and initiating the gun battle. Both Garces and the suspect were shot. Garces made a full recovery and the suspect was charged with two counts of attempted murder of an officer.
Quality of Life Officers Christopher Roth and Bradley Futak and mental health clinician Tom Kirk received the Chief’s Community Policing Award. The trio provide outreach to the city’s homeless population using resources provided by the police foundation and community partners such as the Multi-Service Center and Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
Lt. Donald Mauk was awarded the Excellence in Leadership for improving and enhancing Jail Division operations. Public Information Officer Marlene Arrona received a Civilian Employee of the Year award for her dedicated work in the Media Relations Detail, especially her work in the development of a more user-friendly website and creating and monitoring the department’s social media postings. Detective David Strohman received the Sworn Employee of the Year award for his efforts in the Drug Investigations Section. He wrote and served 21 search warrants and made 96 felony narcotic-related arrests. During one case, he was able to save a young child who was living in a hazardous and dilapidated home where methamphetamine was being sold.
Sgt. Daniel Barkwill was distinguished for collaborating with Al Brunella, a community member and owner of a manufacturing business. The two worked together to design a machine with weapons destruction capabilities. The machine, known as “The Crusher,” has a value of about $20,000. Brunella donated all the materials, labor and time to build the machine through the police foundation. With the machine, the department will save thousands of dollars each year in redirecting resources used for an armed escort to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and be able to destroy more weapons, the Post reported last year.
Sgt. Shaleana Benson received the Distinguished Service Award for creating the “Know Your Limit” alcohol awareness campaign, for obtaining a “Choose Your Ride” DUI awareness vehicle, and for writing a proposal for grant funding to increase the number of officers available for DUI checkpoints.
Many residents were also honored for their work in reporting suspicious activity or volunteering their time.
“Not everybody wants to get involved and make a difference but the ones being awarded tonight not only got involved but they decided that they were going to make a difference in somebody’s life,” Luna told the crowd. “Those efforts truly, truly make our community a much better place.”