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Police department bestows annual awards for exemplary service
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A Distinguished Service Medal was presented to Officer Henry Hernandez. He was instrumental in capturing the person suspected of shooting to death Zobeyda Esquerra, 22, of Livingston outside a Turlock auto parts store in March of this year (Photo courtesy of TPD).

The last year was a challenging one for the Turlock Police Department as they continued to weather the pandemic, saw changes in leadership roles and an increased workload. But there were employees who rose to those challenges and on Thursday the department took time to honor them with their annual awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony was the first presided over by Chief Jason Hedden, who joined the department earlier this year.

"For the last 18 years, I served for the police department in a neighboring jurisdiction, but every day, I would end my shift, change out of my uniform and drive back to my home in Turlock," Hedden said. "It was here at home where I grew to respect and an admire my hometown police department. The Turlock Police Department team has always had a reputation for being respected leaders in the law enforcement community. Now I’m proud to be among you and it is my honor to recognize our people for the important work they do each day."

All the awardees were nominated by their peers and selected by the awards committee.

The Employee of the Year award can be given to any non-sworn employee and this year was bestowed upon Alex Stapler, a dispatcher. Stapler was recognized for her always calm demeanor during any emergency situation, even when it is in dispatch. Stapler was on duty the night all the computers and radios went down in dispatch. But she didn't panic. She knew exactly who to contact and kept dispatch operations going without any of the technology.

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The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Mary Ann Jorge, who has provided an invaluable service to the Crime Prevention Unit. She typically volunteers 20 to 40 hours per week by helping organize the unit by scanning, reviewing old documents, filing and anything else asked of her. She has accumulated more than 600 volunteer hours and is always a welcome sight at the department because of her upbeat and positive attitude.

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The Officer of the Year Award went to Neighborhood Resource Officer Ian Rodriguez. In his nomination, Rodriguez was praised for being "instrumental in dealing with the enormous task of blight, illegal encampments, and park cleanups as it relates to unsheltered individuals."

"Officer Rodriguez coordinates his daily activities with other departments (Fire and Parks) to keep the parks as clean as possible, tow abandoned vehicles and clearing large illegal encampments," as stated in the nomination. "In the one year that he has been in this assignment, the illegal camp near Planet Fitness was removed, the illegal camp near the Travelodge was removed, the illegal camp north of Hobby Lobby was cleared. His hard work has had a tremendous visual impact on the general cleanliness of the city."

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The department's Excellence Award is given to a unit or an employee who has done an outstanding job over the year and this year it was awarded to the Animal Services Unit. The unit was praised by the police department for giving the highest level of care to the animals and the customers, despite being consistently understaffed and working in an outdated facility. The unit is comprised of: Supervisor Brittany Pinney; (2021 Supervisor Glena Jackson, now retired); Animal Control Officer Callie Strickland; Animal Control Officer Katherine Walthrop; Kennel Attendant Imelda Suarez (now Police Cadet); Cadet Arlen Arrieta; Cadet Daniel Azizian; and Cadet Zachary Rocha.

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This year the department also awarded an Explorer of the Year. It was presented to Joshua Otis, who started his role as an Explorer in 2020, just as the pandemic was shutting everything down. His enthusiasm for the program did not wane during the time of inactivity and when he was able to rerun in 2021, he volunteered 93 hours to the Crime Prevention Unit including data entry, filing and updating information. He also helped out at events and continued to work his full-time job.

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A Distinguished Service Medal was presented to Officer Henry Hernandez. The Distinguished Service Medal may be awarded to employees who, while serving in an official capacity, distinguish themselves by meeting the following criteria: The service contributed significantly towards the department attaining its goals
and objectives; the service significantly impacted the department in a positive manner; and the service involved a great deal of responsibility and personal initiative.

Hernandez was instrumental in capturing Juan Francisco Ibarra-Tapia, 22, of Livingston, who is accused of shooting to death Zobeyda Esquerra, 22, of Livingston outside a Turlock auto parts store in March of this year. Hernandez was in the area writing his reports when he heard the gunshots. He immediately communicated that information to dispatch and advised he would be checking in the area. His quick actions put him in place to quickly locate the suspect fleeing the scene. The suspect tried to hide in a nearby neighborhood, but Hernandez was able to locate him and take him into custody.

"Henry is a work horse, consistently making proactive stops getting guns, drugs and bad people off the streets," wrote one colleague about Hernandez.

The department presented a second Distinguished Service Medal, this time to long-time Executive Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Police Mary Sousa. It took some sneaky maneuvering to surprise Sousa with the medal because she has been serving as the Chief’s representative, a non-voting member of the board determining the awards and organizing the ceremony since its inception in 2010.

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Sousa's career with the Turlock Police Department has spanned more than three decades and nine police chiefs. She has been selected as the Employee of the Year in 1998, 2004 and 2010.

In 2010, Sousa received a commendation for creating the policy for the awards ceremony and commendation process. In 2015, she received a commendation for updating outdated job announcements and creating a supplemental questionnaire to aid in our screening process of applicants. In 2018, she was named City of Turlock employee of the month. This year she was key in coordinating the selection process for the Chief of Police position and received a commendation for it.

A passage from the commendation reads, “Mary Sousa not only successfully achieved the monumental assignment of developing, coordinating, and administering the selection process for the chief of police position, but achieved that goal through an exceptionally high level of professional decorum and expertise.”

The department also had the opportunity to recognize three recent promotions. David Hall was promoted to lieutenant and Tony Argueta and Dominic Hernandez were both promoted to sergeant.