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Ceres Police installs new hires, honors standouts
Swearing in
Chief of Police Brent Smith administered the oath to new Sergeant Vince Hooper and new officers Jessica Graham, Kamalpreet Gill, Eric Souza, Alex Ochoa, Christian Izquierdo and Jeffery Podvin at a special Thursday evening ceremony at the Ceres Community Center. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Twelve new Police Department employees were highlighted at a special Thursday evening ceremony, an event which saw the promotion of a new police sergeant, the presentation of seven with annual awards and the honoring of seven for their role in saving lives.

Introduced as new department employees at the Ceres Community Center ceremony were:

• Dispatch Supervisor Mark Anderson;

• Records Clerk Evelyn Garcia;
• Code Enforcement Officer Roger Alvarez;

• Chaplains Chris Grigson and Aquiles Rojas;

• Police Officers Jessica Graham, Kamalpreet "Kenny" Gill, Eric Souza, Alex Ochoa, Christian Izquierdo and Jeffery Podvin.

In addition, Officer Vince Hooper was promoted to sergeant. He replaces Sgt. Pat Sullivan, who retired from Ceres Police on Jan. 18 after 35 years of service. Hooper, a Modesto native, who grew up in Patterson and Stockton and graduated from Lincoln High School, came to CPD last year. He went into law enforcement after graduating from the MJC Academy in 1997 and being hired as a Patterson Police officer law. When Patterson contracted out police services to the Sheriff's Department starting in 1998, Hooper became a deputy. He remained with the Sheriff's Office for 17 years and was assigned to various special details. He spent one year with the CSU Stanislaus PD.

Mark Anderson, who has been dispatching with Ceres Police since 2003, was promoted to Dispatch Supervisor in July, 2017. Prior to that, however, in less than two years Anderson had risen from Dispatcher I to Senior Dispatcher and bypassing the Dispatcher II level altogether. He recently obtained an AS degree from Modesto Junior College.

He is married to Vanessa and they have two daughters. When not on the job, Mark enjoys cycling, shooting and flying drones.

Evelyn Garcia was hired as the newest Ceres Police Records Clerk on June 5, 2017 after spending the prior 9 months as a department volunteer. She earned a bachelor's degree from CSU Stanislaus in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Science and a minor in Psychology. For leisure she loves to read, write and spend time with her family.

Also new as a Ceres 9-1-1 dispatcher is Julia Jacobo who came to Ceres Police Department with over 11 years of experience with Livingston, San Leandro and Oakdale police agencies. She started as a reserve dispatcher on June 7 and seven weeks later a fulltime position opened up.

The mother of four children is also pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. For fun she likes to ride horses, spend time with the family and camping.

Roger Alvarez was introduced as the city's new Code Enforcement Officer which is overseen by the Ceres Police Department. On Feb. 5 Roger replaced long-time Code Enforcement Officer Frank Alvarez. He served 17 years as a patrol officer with El Cerrito Police. Before becoming a police officer, Alvarez served five years in the Marines and signed on for an additional six years with the National Guard while working for El Cerrito, from where he retired in 2016.

Married with two stepsons, a daughter and a grandson, Roger enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, shooting and traveling with his family.

Chief Smith welcomed two new police chaplains in Chris Grigson and Aquiles Rojas. The two will assist in family emergencies, death notifications and ministering to the needs of public safety employees.

Grigson has been in the Valley for 20 years and pastors at Valley Christian Center the block over from Ceres Police headquarters. Born in Texas, Pastor Grigson grew up in the Bay Area. He and wife Sue have two children and two grandchildren. Aside from his work, Chris loves to teach, play golf, watch movies, attend church and do volunteer work.

Aquiles Rojas, who has been pastoring Ceres Christian Church on Roeding Road since 2013, was unable to attend the event He has been married to his wife, Socorro, for 35 years.

Chief Smith introduced Jessica Graham who was hired May 8 after spending two years with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. The Johansen High School graduate completed her law enforcement training at the Regional Training Center in Dublin. When she's not in uniform, Jessica enjoys horse-back riding, hiking, fishing and weight lifting.

New Officer Kamalpreet "Kenny" Gill was hired June 5 and brings with him experience from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's and Livingston Police departments. Born in India, Kenny immigrated to the United States with his family, graduating from Turlock High School and becoming an American citizen in 2006.

He graduated from the POST Academy in Stockton. Kenny enjoys hiking, traveling and sports. This spring he is to be married to fiancée, Kiran.

Eric Souza joined the ranks of the Ceres sworn on June 23 after graduating from the POST Academy in Stockton and becoming recertified in Fresno. Born in San Leandro and graduating from Tracy High School, Eric started his law enforcement experience as a Tracy Police Department explorer and later worked as a dispatcher for Tracy Police. Souza also works his off days as an EMT, which has proven to be a great asset to the department. He is married to wife, Katie and enjoys traveling, camping, fishing, running and baseball.

Alex Ochoa joined the department as an officer on July 13, 2017. Modesto born, he graduated from Ceres High School where he was a Ceres Police explorer scout. He spent five years in the Army, including a tour at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is an active Army reservist and he is currently pursuing a college degree. Alex's wife ceremonially pinned on his badge. His favorite pastimes are watching and playing sports, shooting at gun ranges, working out and spending time with his family.

Hired on Feb. 5, 2017, Ceres Police is Christian Izquierdo's first gig as a sworn officer.

The Davis High School graduate attended the POST Academy in Stockton. Married three years, Christian enjoys fitness activity, barbecuing, cooking, engaging in Bible Study and being with family and friends.

Newest officer Jeffery Podvin was sworn in on Thursday but didn't start his first shift until Monday. He comes to Ceres after spending five years with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department. Podvin was raised in Modesto where he graduated Downey High School and later from the Institute of Technology. He attended the POST Academy in Modesto. He is engaged and they have three children. In his spare time he enjoys turning a wrench on anything with a motor.

Special presentations
Chief Smith gave special presentations to Sgt. Jose Berber and to retiring Sgt. Pat Sullivan, who retired from Ceres Police on Jan. 18 after 35 years of service.

Sgt. Berber was singled out for his "willingness to go above and beyond what was required of him in serving as the Administrative Sergeant." He was appointed in 2009 and the typical length of service on this special assignment would have carried him to 2013. Berber served three years and four months longer than expected.

An administrative sergeant is charged with investigating all complaints, internal and external, supervising the School Resource Officers, the chaplaincy program and the Volunteers in Public Safety (VIPS.) Smith said the duties are "varied, complex and highly stressful."

Sullivan retired with a distinguished service record that included serving on theoriginal Ceres SWAT team, as a Field Training Officer and sergeant, a detective and detective sergeant, and a Stanislaus County Drug Enforcement Unit detective.

Annual Awards doled out

Each year the Ceres Police Department honors employees with awards and the five selected this year were:

• Giselle Gonzalez, "Explorer of the Year";

• David McCann, "Volunteer of the Year";

• Oyre Echols "Professional Staff of the Year";

• Trenton Johnson, "Sergeant of the Year";

• Vince Hooper, "Police Officer of the Year."

"Explorer of the Year" Giselle Gonzalez became a police explorer in 2015 and has shown herself to be a leader among her peers. She is currently a senior at Downey High School in Modesto where she earns a 3.6 GPA. Gonzalez was honored as a great leader who is motivated, desirous of expanding her knowledge of police work and very helpful during ride outs other jobs. She recently was promoted to captain after taking the test three times and never giving up.

"She is an exemplary role model and has embraced law enforcement as her future," said the chief.

Giselle plans to join the Marines upon graduation.

David McCann joined the Ceres Police's VIPS program in 2010 and is now the VIPS coordinator as well as a Community Service Officer. He was selected as the "Volunteer of the Year" for "going above and beyond for the department," said Smith. "He is dependable, helpful and always has a positive attitude. He devotes many hours of his own time and is always helpful to the units on patrol. He is willing to attend trainings that allow him to handle different types of calls, freeing up the patrol units for other calls."

Dispatcher Oyre Echols was honored as "Professional Staff of the Year" because of her willing to help, is an adept call taker and hard worker.

"She gets all the information we need before we even ask for it," said Chief Smith. "She is always working hard to assist the officers and is readily available to cover shifts. If a shift needs to be covered, she is here - no questions asked.

She works long hours, wants to do the right thing and genuinely cares."

Echols joined Ceres Police in March, 2015 as a reserve dispatcher. She became fulltime in June of that year.
Trenton Johnson was tapped for the "Sergeant of the Year" honor.

"Trenton is a positive person with strong integrity and a great leader who inspires others. He works hard, goes above and beyond what is expected of him and is dedicated to the community and department," said the chief. "He always puts his squad first and always has the best interest of his subordinates and the department in mind. Sgt. Johnson is fair and treats everyone with respect. He is easy to talk to and everyone should strive to be like him. Although he has many collateral duties, he somehow always finds time to show up and help out on calls for service."

Sgt. Johnson started his career with Ceres Police as a reserve officer in January, 1998 and became a full-time officer in August, 1998. He has been a sergeant since 2008.

Over his 20 years Johnson has been assigned to the Detectives Bureau and the Street Crimes Unit. He currently is one of CPD's Senior Range Masters. He is married to Senior Dispatcher Tammie Johnson.

One of the newer officers who just made sergeant, Vince Hooper was named "Officer of the Year" for 2017. Hooper was hired by Ceres PD in January, 2017. This last year, he trained in Southern California to offer Peer Support for the department. He now leads the Peer Support group, which consists of sworn and non-sworn personnel who are available to the rest of department during and after a crisis situation, such as a line of duty death.

Chief Smith said Hopper has a "can-do attitude of a veteran law enforcement officer. He is leading the department in recovery of occupied stolen vehicles and is unyielding in his pursuit of criminals. He has done an outstanding job in the year he has been here. Even though he has years of experience, he still displays the excitement of a new cop and the drive of a rookie.

"In the first year here he has used his knowledge and experience to work and solve several exemplary cases on patrol.

"He is a mentor to less experienced officers and is currently taking the lead to establish a Peer Support Group for the department.

"Vince has shown himself to be a hard worker and a great beat partner.

Vince is thorough in his work and exhibits pride, integrity and excellence in all facets of the job.

"Vince gets along well with his co-workers, is well-liked by all of his peers and is happy to be here. I have heard many employees say, ‘I love working with Vince.'"

Life Saving awards

Ceres Police Officer Mike Vierra was recognized for saving the life of a 23-year-old man who was poised to commit suicide by jumping off the Hatch Road overpass on July 15, 2017.

Police were called at 1:27 p.m. about the man upset over a break-up. Vierra was first to respond and saw the man sitting on the guardrail on the north side of the overpass precariously balancing on the guardrail. Vierra parked his car approximately 15 yards from the man and noted the man was crying and extremely emotional. Vierra slowly approached the man and called out his name, asking him to come back over the railing however he began to slide forward off the railing. After several minutes of conversation, Officer Vierra positioned himself close enough to grab him and pull him to safety.

The man was taken to Doctors Medical Center for a psychological evaluation.

Another round of awards was doled out to six employees who were instrumental in saving a man who had knifed himself in the neck.

"These six people worked together as a team to save the life of one distraught man and to show kindness to a mother and son," said Police Chief Brent Smith.

Police officers Brian Petersen, Jesus Salinas and Eric Souza, Sgt. Greg Yotsuya and dispatchers Oyre Echols and Shawnna Yotsuya were all honored for their role in the Oct. 20, 2017 suicide attempt.

Chief Smith described the incident. Dispatchers were called at approximately 2:30 p.m. by an 18-year-old man. The teen had found his father suffering from a self-inflicted knife wound to the neck at home. Dispatcher Yotsuya took the call, entered the information and continued to try to get information from the teen, who was not responding. She alerted the officers that something was going on with the teen, but didn't know what.

Echols dispatched Petersen and Salinas to the scene with Sgt. Yotsuya and Officer Souza also responding. Echols remained on the radio giving updated information to officers. When the units arrived, Dispatcher Yotsuya told the teen to let the officers in. The son led officers to the bathroom where his wounded father was while Officer Petersen distracted the teen, who is autistic, from witnessing what was happening with his father.

Officers could only see a large laceration to the man's right arm but moved him to the bedroom for more room to assess injuries. During the move, however, the man continued to try harming himself in various ways, requiring Sgt. Yotsuya and Officers Salinas and Souza to restrain him. They discovered a large laceration to the front of his neck. With his EMT background, Souza rendered aid to save the man's life.

Petersen was contacted the teen's mother, who was in Manteca, and also his grandfather, who arrived immediately. While awaiting the mother's arrival, Petersen stayed and worked with the grandfather to clean up the blood before the mother arrived home. Later in the evening, Petersen called the teenager and his mom to check on them and the status of the dad.