By Larry Smith, Award Consultant
| Alcatel-Lucent’s Morgan Wright, Police Officers of the Year Martin Torres Guzman and Michael K. Neal, and IACP President |
Mark A. Marshall
oining with global communications industry leader Alcatel-Lucent, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) went outside the borders of the United States this year to coname Costa Rica’s Chief of Intelligence Martin Torres Guzman Police Officer of the Year. He shares the award with Arkansas Wildlife Officer Michael K. Neal, who saved the lives of two fellow officers in a dramatic crash-and-shoot gun battle with two heavily armed killers in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The award, initiated 45 years ago by the IACP, is one of the most prestigious in law enforcement.
The two men were among seven officers honored October 25 at the annual IACP conference in Chicago. The additional five were Commander Brian Davis of Detroit, Michigan; Sergeant Craig Friesen of Anaheim, California; Officer Ernest Goram of Tallahassee, Florida; Officer Katie Lawson of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Sergeant Toby Hinton of the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Police Department.
Martin Torres Guzman, Police Officer of the Year
Despite the fact that Costa Rica has no army, Chief of Intelligence Torres and his 200 officers of the Policia Control de Drogas have made Costa Rica number one in the world in marijuana seizures and number two, just behind Panama, in the seizure of cocaine from Colombia.
Phillip Springer, the country attaché for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), nominated Chief Torres for the award.
Springer, who has worked with Torres for nearly three years, said, “In my 26 years in law enforcement, I have never experienced any one like [Torres]. He is the backbone of almost every case we pursue.” Between June 2010 and June 2011, Chief Torres’ team seized roughly 2.9 million marijuana plants or 2.9 kilos, a little more than the amount seized in the entire United States in the same period.
Since July of last year, Chief Torres and his aides seized from the Avarado drug cartel out of Sinaloa Mexico 2,700 kilograms of cocaine and $4 million in cash, and arrested three high-ranking members of the gang.
On receiving his award, Chief Torres declared, “I am very proud to receive this valuable recognition from the IACP. I want to thank my family that has sacrificed most during my 17-year career. I also thank the Drug Control Police in Costa Rica and my colleagues of the Department of Justice. Having a DEA office in Costa Rica has been a huge benefit to us.” He went on to credit by name more than 31 “fighting brothers of the DEA,” as well as his supervisor, Alan Solano Aguilar, who accompanied him to Chicago.
Michael K. Neal, Police Officer of the Year
Wildlife Officer Neal was two counties away in his game and fish–issued pickup truck when he learned that two West Memphis, Arkansas, police officers had been shot dead while making a routine traffic stop. Officer Neal unlimbered his assault rifle and sped toward the area.
Meanwhile Jerry Kane, 45, and his son Joseph, 16, who had killed the two officers, calmly drove their van to a Wal-Mart lot, did some shopping, removed the Ohio license plates from their vehicle, drove off to change clothes, and then returned to the parking lot. Their vehicle had been spotted and was intercepted by Crittenden County, Arkansas, Sheriff Dick Busby and Chief Deputy W.A. Wren. As they stepped out of their vehicle, Joseph Kane opened fire with an AK-47, wounding both as they took cover behind their patrol car.
Officer Neal saw this from 50 yards away as he came racing onto the scene, and he slammed into the suspects’ van at 55 miles per hour. “In my mind, the Kanes had just killed four officers. It was going to end there. My AR-15 holds 30 rounds, it has a short barrel, and we are trained at shooting through the windshield,” said Neal.
“They were firing from about seven feet away as I hit the van,” Neal explained. “I shot the father twice in the head, eliminating his threat completely, then put 28 [shots] into and around the passenger. I saw the driver’s face but I couldn’t see the other one—just the fire coming off the end of his weapon. I hit him multiple times. He continued to fire while being hit. He put 15 AK-47 rounds into the truck. I took shrapnel in five different places, including a big one on the leg, blew my left eardrum, and had a piece of glass in my left eye. The hat lying beside me took three or four rounds. The whole thing lasted 30 seconds.”
Since the shooting on May 20, 2010, Officer Neal has made more than 110 appearances at law enforcement agencies from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Washington, presenting audio and video of the entire incident and emphasizing to fellow officers the need to “keep your game on at all times.”
He and Chief Torres were introduced on stage at the IACP 2011 Second General Assembly. They also were recognized at a luncheon attended by representatives of Alcatel-Lucent and the IACP. Janet Napolitano, secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was a featured speaker at both events.
Also present were the five officers given honorable mentions. They were accompanied by family members, fellow officers, and their chiefs.
Commander Brian Davis, Detroit, Michigan, Police Department, was cited for saving the lives of fellow officers when a gunman walked into the precinct and opened fire with a .20 gauge shotgun, wounding three officers, on January 13.
“I didn’t know what was up until he fired his first shot,” Commander Davis said. “I thought it was a backfire. I ducked down and then looked up and an individual was in the precinct firing at police officers. The sergeant next to me was hit by shrapnel and, as he went down, I grabbed his gun and started engaging the guy. I was not hit until he jumped over the front desk, and then we were engaging each other at point blank range.
“I hit him at least four times. I was moving to my left and he missed me with his first shot, and as I continued to move he fired and blew the gun out of my hands and blew the tips of two fingers off my right hand. He also hit me in the back, shattering three vertebrae. I knew I was injured, but I got up and threw a trash can at him. After he shot me, he staggered and died.” A YouTube film of the shooting has been viewed by more than 258,000 people.Sergeant Craig Friesen, supervisor of the Anaheim, California, Police Department vice unit, developed an innovative approach to dealing with street-level prostitution. Acting with a grant and in concert with a victim advocate organization, Sergeant Friesen changed traditional arrest-and-ticket tactics to help young street prostitutes, who are now taken to the station, interviewed in a comfortable setting, and offered services to help redirect their lives. Meanwhile, the police go after the pimps. A full-time victim advocate follows up to help the women break away and start clean. Sergeant Friesen credits the advocate, as well as the department’s willingness to reach outside for support, such as through its Community Services Program. More than 50 women have been helped so far, and 16 pimps have been arrested. “We check our logos and our egos at the door,” Sergeant Friesen said. “Everyone works together.”
Officer Ernest Goram, Tallahassee, Florida, Police Department, raced to the scene of an early morning house fire a year ago. There he met his sergeant, Reginald Lawyer, along with the distraught mother, whose four children were trapped upstairs. The two officers went around back and, by stepping on Sergeant Lawyer’s shoulders, Officer Goram pulled himself up onto the roof, where hot black smoke was pouring out of a nearby window. Officer Goram waved his flashlight inside as he called for the children. He helped the first three escape, but “I could hear the youngest one, still in there screaming, and I’m screaming at him. I stuck my head in the window and it was so hot I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know there was a bunk bed right next to the window, and all at once I could see his hand just for a moment. Then it disappeared. So I stuck my upper body in where I saw the hand, and I was able to grab him.”
Police Officer Katie Lawson, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Police Department, survived an encounter with a young gunman who opened fire on her with an AR-15 as she paused while driving down a street. “I didn’t see the gun,” she recalled. “He just opened fire. My second thought was to get my own gun out. I remember going for it but I don’t remember pulling it out or having it out. I leaned over, put it out the window and started firing at him. They later recovered 26 rifle casings at the scene. Twenty-three struck my vehicle. I got off 11 rounds before he disappeared. I got out of the vehicle and tried to run after him but, as I started to take off, I realized my legs were not working. I had two bullets in my left butt cheek, one slid across my face and went through my right ear, and one hit my vest and penetrated my abdomen just above the belly button. It took the top layer of skin off and bruised me but didn’t penetrate. I had the same thing on the left side of my back. They took big chunks out, but I still have lots of little pieces left in me. I also was shot in the right calf.” The shooter, who was seeking to distract authorities from arresting his father, an illegal immigrant, was sentenced November 8 to life in prison for shooting with intent to kill a police officer and to another 10 years for possession of a firearm. Officer Lawson returned to full duty last March.
Police Sergeant Toby Hinton, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Police Department, a 21-year-veteran, has had dramatic success in combating drug use among young people across Canada. He and a partner, Constable Al Arsenault, started filming interactions with young people addicted to drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. They joined with five other officers to form the “Odd Squad” and created a documentary, Through a Blue Lens, which has been seen by more than 25 million people around the world. The Odd Squad went on to produce four more documentaries, most recently Gangs and Guns, now being distributed in schools throughout British Columbia. In addition, a mentoring project focusing on drugs and gangs reaches Native Canadian and Inuit youth from British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. ■
Please cite as:
Larry Smith, "The IACP and Alcatel-Lucent Present International and Domestic Police Officer of the Year Awards," The Police Chief 78 (December 2011): 86–87.