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“In the Company of Heroes”: 2022 EPD Awards Ceremony

The room was filled with blue.

Formal blue uniforms with department jackets and awards, blue work uniforms for walking around a bit or riding in a patrol car, blue shorts for members of the community policing group patrolling on bikes, and blue jeans with holes in them for a member of the special operations group. Even the cupcakes had blue icing.

The people in blue were the men and women of the Evanston Police Department, plus some brave civilians. This diverse group met on Thursday, May 19 in room 2800 of the Morton Civic Center. Each honoree deserved public recognition for going above and beyond.

Pictured, L-R, Deputy Chief Melissa Sacluti, Deputy Chief Jody Wright, Chief Richard Eddington, Acting City Manager Kelley Gandurski, Mayor Daniel Biss, all standing with three of the four Valor Award honorees and Officer of the Year: Officer Justin Conley, Officer Karl Witt (now with St Charles Police Department) and Officer Corey McCray. Credit: Evanston Police Department

Many winners were working and could not be there. Those coming in from a shift still wore the gear they wear every day: body camera, vest, holster weapon, flashlight, radio, handcuffs, pens, notebook and cell phone. They walked resolutely and surprisingly agile considering the weight of the equipment.

Some were accompanied by their families – a spouse and a child or two – but most were there alone.

If there were any showboats on the list of winners, they were missing – something Mayor Daniel Biss noted in his brief opening remarks for the ceremony.

“If I have one complaint about our police department,” Biss said, “it’s that they’re not as good as I’d like to be at touting their accomplishments and talking about the great things they’re doing for our day-to-day community.”

Biss spoke of the importance of public recognition and the need for the city to “celebrate the truly extraordinary work that has been done by the men and women of this department on behalf of this community.”

He told the winners, “It’s an important thing for us to do, so you all feel that recognition, you know your work is seen, understood and appreciated. But also that we send a signal to our community about the kind of work that is done by this department and the meaning it carries for the well-being of all of us.

Acting Chief Constable Eddington thanked everyone gathered, saying “we are in the company of heroes”.

This was followed by numerous awards and recipients: eight letters of appreciation from the chief of police, two commendations from the police department and 23 certificates of recognition to recognize “a normally unexpected act of service in daily duties”. Eleven honorable mentions to highlight the exceptional work of the police. Eight special recognitions from the chef.

The senior officer who presented the awards provided a brief narrative detailing why the actions of each recipient deserved special recognition.

It was humbling and moving to listen to the stories of heroism. Here are a few :

  • The Special Operations Group and DEA Task Force who worked for months to dismantle a drug smuggling operation in Evanston for 15 years. The results were six people arrested on federal charges and 15 people were arrested on state-related charges in Cook County. Those recognized were: Deputy Chief Jody Wright, Commander Elizabeth Glynn, Commander James Pillars III, Sergeant Christopher Tortorello, Task Force Officer Mikhail Geyer, Detectives Tom Giese, Benjamin Holliman, Jason Kleinpaste, Steve Klopak , Adam Pack, Pauline Pogorzelski, Daniel Rosenbaum, Richard Shanas and Kyle Wideman.
  • Sergeant Chelsea Brown, who coordinated a water rescue that saved two capsized boaters.
  • Sergeant Mala Dukler, who patiently and empathetically spoke to someone in a mental health crisis so that person would not commit suicide.
  • Three telecommunications officers Michael Stonequist, Richard Clucas and Carl Hasten calmly, quickly and carefully made smart decisions to keep officers informed of the behavior and whereabouts of suspects, weapons drawn, civilians injured, thus avoiding other deaths.
  • Officer Grace Carmichael, who meticulously processed a suspect’s car and found and collected DNA evidence, which was used to arrest and charge a suspect.

The highest form of recognition is the Bravery Award, given to honor an act of outstanding bravery or heroism.

Officers Justin Conley, Adam Nawotka, Corey McCray and Karl Witt each received the Valor Award and the Officer of the Year Award. On January 9, 2021, the two officers attended CVS, 101 Asbury Ave., where gunshots were reported. When they arrived, the man ran across the street to a restaurant, where he took a woman hostage and then shot her dead. Officers provided first aid to the women until paramedics arrived; she died eight days later in hospital. Other officers followed the shooter outside, where gunfire was exchanged in a nearby parking lot and the shooter was killed. The killing ended a nearly four-hour rampage of random shootings and robberies. He ended up killing a total of five people and injuring two others.

To thank the police in person, the public is invited to the Evanston Police Appreciation Ceremony, sponsored by the Evanston Police Chaplain Team, from 3-3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24 , in front of the police station, 1454 Elmwood Ave.