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Orange County

Officers Saluted for Outreach Efforts

Law enforcement: The Human Relations Commission honors programs that build ties.


Seven police officers and law enforcement programs--including an entire police department--were recognized by the Orange County Human Relations Commission on Thursday for community outreach.

A special award was given to Sheriff-Coroner Michael S. Carona and the Sheriff's Department for work on the Samantha Runnion case. The 5-year-old was kidnapped outside her Stanton home and later killed. Deputies arrested Alejandro Avila, 27, who has been charged with the crimes. Avila has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Samantha.

The Garden Grove Police Department was honored because its leaders made community policing part of its strategy.

"All members of the department, civilian and sworn, were encouraged to embody this philosophy as they undertook their daily assignments," said Susan Reese, commission president, at an awards breakfast.

Garden Grove encouraged community policing among its 165 officers but didn't stop there. "It included every dispatcher, records clerk and officer in the entire department," said Lt. Paul Prince.

Patrol officers were assigned a daily beat and told to work with residents and business owners to solve problems

Meanwhile, new programs emerged to encourage involvement by residents, including a chief's forum, Korean outreach, Vietnamese outreach and a neighborhood improvement team.

Awards also were given to officers in Cypress, La Habra, Placentia, Santa Ana and the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Cypress police were recognized for a team that lets officers notify schools during emergencies. In La Habra, school violence was targeted so students could attend after-school events safely.Placentia's community service officer, Nilda Berndt, was recognized for starting a student valet program. To help reduce car accidents and improve traffic flow, fifth-grade students act as valets, opening car doors and assisting students with backpacks.

Santa Ana Officer Mauricio Estrada was recognized for his role in reducing burglaries at a building complex. Estrada held meetings and sought the cooperation of residents and business owners. He also organized "Kids Days" to reward local youths, and started neighborhood cleanup days.

In San Clemente, sheriff's officials recognized they had a problem with local gangs and children afraid to travel to other cities for fear of gang activity. They developed "Kids Safe Day USA," which provides a safe environment for a youth conference for children from Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

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