The Turlock Police Department took a small step towards returning to normalcy on Thursday by hosting an outdoor and distanced awards presentation to honor those employees and volunteers who performed outstandingly in a very abnormal year.
The department typically holds an indoors awards breakfast early in the year, but when it became apparent it wasn't going to happen this year, they adapted to an outdoor afternoon presentation.
"It is important for us to recognize those that have earned recognition, so we decided to move it outside," said Acting Turlock Police Chief Steven Williams.
Each year the police department honors the volunteer, employee and officer of the year. They also present an award of excellence to an individual or a unit and present any special citations and medals for those individuals who have gone beyond their regular duties in service to the community.
The department awarded the Medal of Meritorious Service to three detectives for their actions that helped save the life of Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Caleb Collins, who was critically injured in a traffic collision on June 25, 2020.
Detectives Gina Giovacchini, Tim Redd and Jason Tosta were all headed separately to the police department to start their shift when they saw a vehicle make an illegal turn and strike Collins, who was on a motorcycle and working traffic duty at the time.
"Without hesitation, these detectives immediately began assisting the deputy who had obvious signs of serious physical trauma from the impact," Williams said.
The collision happened at W. Main Street and Tully Road during busy morning traffic.
"While attending to the deputy’s medical condition, traffic was heavy due to the morning commute and there was no way to move the deputy nor could they leave him; therefore, the detectives were exposed to traffic and vulnerable to being injured themselves," Williams said. "While rendering aid to the deputy, it was clear his airway was blocked. With no advanced medical equipment, the detectives assisted with clearing his airway and stabilizing his neck. They continued to monitor his pulse and ensure he was breathing until the paramedics arrived. The paramedic from American Medical Response said the actions of the detectives saved the deputy’s life.
"Detective Giovacchini’s, Detective Tim Redd’s and Detective Jason Tosta’s actions exemplify going above and beyond the call of duty and demonstrated Turlock Police Department’s Mission Statement of, 'As Police Professionals, We Commit Ourselves to Public Safety, Service, and Excellence,'" Williams said. "Their actions are not only an example of their commitment to the community but also to their fellow law enforcement comrades. These detectives acted courageously and brought honor to themselves and to the Turlock Police Department."
"Thank you for your swift and heroic actions — it's the reason I'm standing here today," Collins told the detectives at the presentation. "I will be eternally grateful."
"I feel blessed to have been in that position, to happen to be there where we could help," Tosta said. "It was truly a team effort."
"I just want to say that I am glad you're okay," Giovacchini said to Collins. "That was the most important thing to me, so to hear that you're back to full duty is great."
"I would like to acknowledge that Detective Frank Navarro was there as well and had it not been for him running over and stopping the driver, who ended up being an impaired driver, he probably would not be facing some type of prosecution," Redd said.
The Volunteer of the Year award went to George Plisko, who Williams described as being vital this past year to helping with the issuance of police permits.
"This was a much-needed assistance and George picked it up quickly," Williams said.
The Employee of the Year award was presented to Erika Grace, who also earned a special commendation from the department.
Grace was hired as a crime prevention specialist, but just as she started her position, all the outreach efforts were suspended because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"Erika came back to us this year and was challenged by having to completely redesign all of the Crime Prevention programs to meet COVID requirements," Williams said. "That, on top of having all her VIPS unable to help due to COVID. Erika took it in stride and hit the ground running with organizing our current programs, so we would be ready to go once the time came to get back to business as usual."
One program Grace was intent on saving was the Blue Santa program, which earned her the special commendation. Due to budgetary constraints in 2019, the Blue Santa program had to be suspended and with the COVID-19 pandemic it didn't appear it would be able to return in 2020.
"Erika organized the Blue Santa Program in a way that was safe, efficient, and fiscally responsible," Williams said. "With the hard work of Erika and coordination with numerous Turlock Police Department employees who volunteered to help, Blue Santa was a great success. Many families and over one hundred children were provided with much needed joy this holiday season."
Sgt. Michael Parmley was selected by his colleagues as the Officer of the Year. Parmley is in charge of the department's professional standards and serves as the department's spokesperson.
"Sgt. Parmley works so hard on a daily basis," Williams said. "He is always focused on his tasks but is always helpful and patient if he’s pulled in a different direction at a moment’s notice."
The Excellence Award was presented to the Records Unit for the extra effort they put in while short staffed and pulling together during a change in records technology.
"Records took on several new responsibilities that required new processes and procedures," Williams said. "They developed new systems that are the example for the county. Despite staffing and workload and deadline stressors, everyone in Records stayed positive and kind. Every customer was treated like their request was the only thing that mattered."
The Records Unit consists of Lilia Franco, Kelly Hines, Vanessa Bravo, Chandra Hopson, Janya Younan, Bianca Shields, Jeannette Del Toro, Stephanie Paiz, Megan Tuggle, Madelyn Dixon and Wilbur Marshal.
The system change also earned Distinguished Service Medals for Senior Records Technician Vanessa Bravo, Records Supervisor Lilia Franco and Dispatcher Supervisor Marivel Rodriguez.
"Over a year ago, the Turlock Police Department embarked on an enormous project of changing providers of our Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management System," Williams said. "Building the system before the “go-live” date consumed the lives of several employees. After the system went live, hundreds of issues kept those same employees working long hours and days off."
Business Unit Supervisor Amanda Fortado also was presented with a Distinguished Service Medal for her work on implementing a new payroll and scheduling system at the department.
"Amanda taught herself on how to use the system and configured it to the best she could to serve our needs," Williams said. "We discovered it was not intended for a police department with our obscure 24/7 schedules, but Amanda found a way to make it work. Once she figured it out, she made several videos and easy-to-follow written instructions so staff could use the system with or without Amanda here. The training documents will be used for a long time, fulfilling the succession planning desire."
Capt. Miguel Pacheco, who served as the Acting Police Chief for the first for months after former police chief Nino Amirfar's departure, was awarded a special commendation for shepherding the department through the pandemic and civil unrest.
"Along with being the Acting Chief at the time, Capt. Pacheco maintained his involvement in the Field Operations Division and was very hands on," Williams said. "While overseeing planning and giving clear direction, he allowed his staff to facilitate operations. His leadership and support guided the Turlock Police Department through exceptionally chaotic times. Under his command, Turlock Police Department staff suffered no injuries at protests, maintained a positive public image, and kept pandemic infections isolated to individuals staff members taking all precautions to guard against mass outbreaks within the department."