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Freddie Ortiz named 'Officer of the Year' during ceremony
• Ceres Police hosts COVID delayed dual swearing-in ceremonies
Freddie Ortiz award
Officer Freddie Ortiz (left) was recognized as “Officer of the Year” by Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins. - photo by AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

During separate ceremonies held Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the Ceres Police Department packed in promotions, swearing-in of new officers and recognizing two employees of the year.

Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins acknowledged that the swearing-in ceremony was delayed for many of the officers who have been on the job for as much as a year and a half now due to the COVID-19 restrictions that prevented large public gatherings.

On Wednesday evening the department saw the promotion of Officer Mike Vierra to sergeant; and the swearing-in of newly hired sworn peace officers in Brian Chandler, Jeff Godrey, Aaron Pinon, Jose Andrade, Lydia Prieto and Sam Becerra.

Thursday evening’s event saw new officers Gloria Blakeslee, Matt Vierra, Nate Blakeslee and Kevin Rossen take their oath and Officer Dirk Nieuwenhuis promoted to sergeant.

During both evenings, Officer Freddie Ortiz was recognized as “Officer of the Year” and chief’s administrative secretary Marcy Pederson was named “Professional Staff of the Year.”

Traffic Officer Ortiz was recognized for exceptional performance since 2019. Due to staffing issues at the Ceres Police Department in early 2019, Officer Ortiz was moved into the position of Officer in Charge (OIC) for the Traffic Unit. Ortiz took on this role without hesitation and performed exceptionally until the department was able to fill the Traffic supervisor position in June 2021.

In his role as the Traffic Unit OIC, Officer Ortiz worked without the benefit of a direct supervisor. With his knowledge and experience the unit continued to function without disruption. He successfully scheduled the unit’s enforcement operations, training, and special events, along with directing staff during major injury traffic investigations.

In addition, he sat in city meetings as the Traffic Supervisor to discuss risks, safety hazards and deployment of personnel for citywide events such as parades and Christmas Tree Lane.

In January 2021 Ortiz sought out and won separate Office of Traffic Safety Grants provide funding for equipment and software that allow officers to write traffic citations electronically, print a citation from a mobile printer in the vehicle and enter traffic collision reports digitally into the computer-aided dispatch and record management systems.

Last year Ortiz also helped the city win grants from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to replace the department’s aging electric Zero motorcycles.

Ortiz is one of the field training officers to ensure that new officers are trained and obtain their Portable Evidential Breath Testing card from the California Department of Justice. He also represents Ceres Police on a taskforce to combat side shows in Stanislaus County. In his free-time, he works as one of a Senior Explorer advisor.

When CPD formed its new Social Media Team, Ortiz was one of the first to volunteer.

Ortiz awarded
Officer of the Year Freddie Ortiz displays his award from the chief - photo by Jeff Benziger

“Officer Ortiz has repeatedly shown leadership within the department and a willingness to step in when needed,” said Chief Collins. “In 2021 the Police Dispatch Center was experiencing a critical staffing shortage. The request went out for any officer willing to work in dispatch to provide breaks and days off for the police dispatchers. Officer Ortiz stepped up and assisted in the Dispatch Center. He started training in dispatch in March 2021 and cleared training to work as a solo dispatcher the following month. Officer Ortiz worked the rest of 2021 in the Dispatch Center as needed and logged approximately 250 hours. Even though Police Dispatch is not part of his job description, he stepped up and volunteered to help the department when needed.”

Chief Collins said that Marcy Pederson is a cornerstone of the Ceres Police organization.

“There is nothing that gets done without her knowing about it or having a hand in it,” said Collins. “She works closely with the department’s budgets to include code enforcement. She pays all the department’s bills to include code enforcement. She assists other departments with the paying of their bills because she has a lot of knowledge about the processes and flow embedded in the finance software.”

He also noted that Pederson “seems to be the hub for all questions within the department” and that “it seems like everyone comes to her desk to ask questions that most times have no direct connection to her official job duties. But no matter how busy she is she takes time to listen and answer the questions to the best of her ability.”

In 2021 Marcy took on the role as the secretary for the Law Enforcement Executive Committee.

When CPD hired nine employees last year Marcy helped navigate the hiring process, taking fingerprints, notarizing documents, and setting up appointments for polygraphs, psych evaluations, and medical exams. She also assisted in updating the Police Department website. Additionally, she helped the City Clerk’s office with administrative support. Pederson also is the person most knowledgeable on the security card key system for the city and is responsible for the entire door security for the city. 

“Marcy epitomizes the term team player,” the chief said. “She is a friend, a mother figure, and an advisor to many. There is a sign on her desk that reads Chaos Coordinator. It should read, ‘Queen Chaos Coordinator.’”

Marcy Pederson
Administrative secretary Marcy Pederson was named “Professional Staff of the Year" by Chief Rick Collins. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Vierra promoted

A ceremony allowed the acknowledgement of Mike Vierra being promoted to sergeant on March 14, 2021. He started with the Ceres Police Department on Sept. 1, 2013 and since starting with the CPD he has been a reserve Field Training Officer, a member of the SWAT team and SIU Task Force. Before promoting to sergeant, Vierra was working in the Investigations Unit.

Vierra was raised in Merced County and attended Merced Junior College and Fresno Junior College. His father, Danny Vierra, is a longtime Ceres Police lieutenant while brothers Matt Vierra and Kao Saechao are CPD officers. Wife Heather pinned on his sergeant’s badge while children Faith, Brooklyn and Cash watched.

Vierra enjoys camping, water sports and farming pistachios.

Sgt Mike Vierra
Heather Vierra pins on the sergeant’s badge on her husband, Mike Vierra, during Wednesday evening’s police ceremony at the - photo by AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

Wednesday oaths

Taking oaths on Wednesday were hired officers Brian Chandler, Jeff Godfrey, Aaron Pinon, Jose Andrade, Lydia Prieto and Sam Becerra who also participated in a ceremonial badge pinning ceremony.

Chandler started with the CPD on April 20, 2020. He had served many years as the liaison between the Ceres Unified School District and the Ceres Police Department School Resource Officers. During his time with the school district, he was also working as a Modesto Reserve Police Officer.

In late 2019 he pursued his dream of becoming a full-time police officer, following in the footsteps of his father, who retired as a sergeant from Modesto Police after 26 years.

On May 1 Chandler became Ceres Police’s newest canine officer, taking over the handling of Veko.

Daughter Ashlynn pinned on her father’s badge, joined by his girlfriend, Brandi. His favorite past-times are shopping, organizing, family vacations and time at the beach.

Hired on Nov. 2, 2020, Officer Jeff Godfrey was raised in Modesto where he graduated from Davis High School and went on to earn a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership. Jeff started his law enforcement career in 1998 as a police officer with Hughson Police Services. Two years later he became a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy where he worked several assignments including Field Training Officer, SWAT team member and Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency officer.

In 2012 Godfrey became a sergeant at the UC Merced University Police Department but left to join Ceres Police Department.

Godfrey is passionately involved with Special Olympics and serves as the area liaison between Special Olympics and law enforcement agencies. He serves on the Executive Board for the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.

On Wednesday wife, Patty – she is a Ceres Police volunteer – pinned on her husband’s badge. Stepdaughter, Amy, who is a Ceres Police dispatcher, and children Tyler and Joei watched on.

In his spare time, Jeff enjoys the outdoors and traveling.

Aaron Pinon started his law enforcement career with Newman Police where he began as a police explorer scout in 2003. He was hired as a reserve officer by Gustine Police in 2012 and transitioned to a fulltime officer in 2013. He worked for Los Banos Police in 2016 until he was hired by Ceres on Nov. 19, 2020.

Born in San Jose and raised in Newman, Pinon attended Merced Community College and Fresno City College. He and wife Lydia have 6-month-old twin girls, Adlee and Rylee. His favorite past-time is spending time with his family. His badge was pinned on by Lydia.

After 10 years as a Merced County Sheriff’s deputy, Jose Andrade joined Ceres Police Department on June 7, 2021.

Andrade was born and raised in Merced and graduated from Merced High School. He loves watching the Los Angeles Dodgers, working out and hanging out with friends and family.

His father, Jose Andrade, Sr., pinned on his officer’s badge.

Lydia Prieto spent 14 years as a deputy with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department before making the move to Ceres Police on Oct. 11, 2021. Lydia is was raised in the Modesto and Ceres area and attended elementary school in Ceres before graduating from Beyer High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from CSU Stanislaus.

In addition to home-schooling her children, aged six and nine, she enjoys being active with them, including dancing beside them in their Folklorico dance group. They enjoy biking, hiking, paddle-boarding and snow skiing.

She was badge pinned by her children, Beatriz and Mateo.

Sam Becerra came to CPD on May 1 after 14 years with the Merced Sheriff’s Department. He also spent 14 overlapping years in the Marine Corps.

Born and raised in Modesto and a graduate of Johansen High, Sam has a brother, sister, uncles and cousins in law enforcement all around the county. 

He and wife Stephanie have three children, Noah, Mia and Ella. His badge was pinned on by Noah with the help of his mother.

Also new to CPD is Ashley Shaw, who started working for Ceres Police in 2019. Since starting, she has moved from Dispatcher I to Dispatcher II. The Escalon High School graduate also graduated from Adrian’s Beauty College before changing careers. Her favorite past-times include spending time at the lake, camping and trips to Pismo with her friends.

Dispatcher Amy Murray started with Ceres Police on August 2, 2021.

Born and raised in the Modesto area, Amy graduated from Modesto Christian High and attended Baylor University in Waco Texas where she earned a BA in Film and Digital Media.

Her step-dad is CPD Officer Jeff Godfrey and her mom, Patty Godfrey, is a CPD volunteers.

Some fun facts about Amy:

• Her student film was featured in the 2019 Newark International Film Festival.

• She interned in New York for two Media Production houses during the 2020 lockdown.

• She wrote a promo spot for Combat Americas - Silver Winner at the 42nd annual Telly Awards.

Her favorite past-times are traveling, music and movies, creative writing, theater, beach days, concerts with friends and Giants games.

Lauren Medina became a Code Enforcement Secretary on Jan. 18.

She was born in Oakland and raised in the San Leandro/Castro Valley area. She attended Chabot Community College. Lauren has experience as a police dispatcher, security and EMS.

Medina is a former dance teacher living in Patterson with boyfriend Joseph, his son and daughter and their two-month-old twin boys, Giovanni and Vincent. She loves to stay active and spend time with family and friends. During the summer, the family enjoys riding around in his 1975 Chevy Caprice and attending car shows.

After 30 years as a patrol officer in Patterson, Turlock and Modesto, Jeff Hopkins retired but decided to join Ceres Police on March 14 as a Code Enforcement Officer. Born at the former Memorial Hospital South in Ceres and was raised in Turlock, Hopkins spent four years in the Marine Corps Infantry Company as a machine gunner.

He and wife Barbie has four children, Kodee, Kasey, Shawn and Meghan, and four grandchildren. His favorite past-times are reading and doing home projects.

Another new dispatcher is Loreal DeAnda who was hired on May 22, 2022 after spending five years as a dispatcher for American Medical Response ambulance company. She was raised in Ceres and attended Central Valley High School for most of her high school years but graduated from Denair High School.

She and husband Josh enjoy trying new food spots, attending sporting events, watching documentaries and hanging out with their dog.

Thursday’s ceremony

On Thursday evening officers Gloria Blakeslee, Matt Vierra, Nate Blakeslee and Kevin Rossen were sworn in while Dirk Nieuwenhuis was recognized for being promoted to sergeant on March 13, 2021.

Born and raised in Bay Point and a graduate of Ripon Christian High School, Dirk joined Ceres Police on August 13, 2008. In those 14 years, he served as a field training officer and a school resource officer. He was also part of our Street Crimes Unit before it was disbanded but continues to be a part of the SWAT Team.

Dirk’s wife Sierra pinned on his badge.

Nieuwenhuis enjoys traveling with the wife and two children Dirk, Jr. and Mia, watching sports and getting together with family and friends.

Gloria Blakeslee started her law enforcement career as a Ceres Police Explorer in 2006. After leaving the Explorer program in 2012, she attended the Police Academy where she graduated in 2013. Modesto Police employed her until she moved to Ceres PD on Jan. 15, 2020.

She is a native of Manteca and Salida and earned an AA degree in Criminal Justice.

Husband, Nate is also a Ceres officer and they have two daughters, Madison, 5, and Brooklyn, 2. Her badge was pinned on by daughter Madison.

She loves to shop, organize and take family vacations, especially at the beach.

Matt Vierra was hired on June 6, 2021 after two years as a Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff and 11 years as an Atwater Police officer.

He is the fourth member of the Vierra family to join Ceres PD. His father is Lt. Danny Vierra (who pinned on his badge), brother Mike is a sergeant and brother Kao Saechao is a patrol officer.

Raised in Atwater, Matt and wife Leah have one daughter, Chayse Marie, 5.

He enjoys camping, boating, shooting and playing paintball.

Nate Blakeslee came to Ceres Police on May 23 after spending 7 ½ years with the Stockton Police Department.

Born in Renton, Wash., Nate grew up in Sacramento and graduated from Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove. His wife, Gloria, is also a CPD officer and they have two daughters. Nate loves spending time with his daughters, going to country music concerts, barbecuing and working on classic cars (mainly their Chevelle).

His badge was pinned on by daughter Madison.

Kevin Roseen started with Ceres PD on June 27, 2022 after spending 3 ½ years with the Gustine PD, the last 2 ½ years as a K9 Officer.

He was born and raised in Fresno and graduated from Fresno High School and the Fresno Police Academy.

Roseen’s grandfather worked for the Fresno Police Department and he has a cousin who works for Homeland Security as an ICE agent.

His hobbies include working out at the gym and cooking for family and friends.

Other interests are working with personal protection K9s and police K9s, and teaching K9 handlers at Law Dog K9 in Fresno.

Girlfriend Mikayla pinned on his badge.

Records Clerk Giovana Pineda was hired on Sept. 30, 2019.

She was born and raised in Redwood City but moved to the Modesto Ceres area over 13 years ago. She graduated from Beyer High School in Modesto.

She is married with two children, ages nine and 12. She enjoys bowling, family game nights, yoga, cycling classes, photography and taking pictures of her family and their adventures.

Dispatcher Daniel Stanfield was hired on Nov. 2, 2020. He was raised in Modesto by his father, Steve Stanfield, who is a Modesto Police lieutenant. The Beyer High School graduate and his girlfriend Krystal have a two-year-old son. His favorite things to do are to watch football and play fantasy football.

Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Officer Keri Sturges is a retired Oakdale PD sergeant who joined Ceres Police on May 25, 2021. She was born and raised in Fontana and graduated from Fontana High School. She earned a BS from the University of La Verne in Public Administration.

In addition to working for Ceres PD, she is also an instructor at the Academy for South Bay Regional. Her husband, Rockford, is an Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy. They have two children, a daughter who is attending Fresno State University; and a son who is in the Army. She also has a seven-month-old grandson.

She is an avid hiker and she and her husband completed a 52-hike challenge in 2021.

Devin Ladd was recognized on Thursday for being promoted to Dispatch Supervisor as of Nov. 29, 2020. He began his career with Ceres PD on April 26, 2006 and previously served in the Air Force as a Security Forces staff sergeant. Ladd has also been part of the CPD Peer Support Team since its inception.

He and his wife, Maribel, have been married for almost 14 years and they have two children, Violet, 6, and Easton, 4. On his time off, he enjoys spending time with his family, hunting and fishing, and following the Giants, Rams and Lakers.

David McCann was hired as a Community Service Officer on June 17, 2021, but has been a fixture at CPD for over 12 years. He started as a volunteer, eventually becoming the Senior VIPS Advisor until he was hired. In addition to his part-time duties with CPD, he has been employed by Ontel Security Services since 2004, working his way up from Security Officer to the Chief of Security and Operations. His current assignments include working with Detectives and Patrol, Drone Team, Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team and Peer Support Team.

He was born in Modesto and raised in Ceres. He graduated from Ceres Christian High School. When he’s not at the PD, he loves to spend time with family and friends. He enjoys taking road trips, or just going for a drive. He also likes to shoot, watch movies and TV, and work around the house.

After two years as a regional 911 dispatcher, Amber Scott was hired by CPD on May 1. She was born and raised in Modesto and graduated from Beyer High School. She attended Modesto Junior College where she earned a degree in Music.

She and husband Jason have two children, Flynn and Remington. Her family loves to visit Disney parks. In her leisure she may be found reading, playing video games or sewing.

On Wednesday, Officer Godrey presented a ceremonial torch to Chief Collins for his ongoing support of his officers in the Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise funds for Special Olympics. Godfrey is one of the region’s organizers of the large fundraiser.

Last year Ceres Police helped raise $64,000 as a department for the torch run and this year $35,000 so far.

“I happily accept this,” said Collins, “on behalf of you but it is because of you and your team and the work that you do and the support that you are able to garner from our community by way of donating $35,000 … that has made this possible.”

Chief Collins then praised the professional non-sworn staff, saying “they work hard for us, they work hard for you and they’ve been working in some very difficult times starting in 2020.”

“Some of them did not know if they were going to be able to keep their jobs but they chose us anyway. Some of them didn’t know what they were getting into when they stepped into a Dispatch Center that was woefully understaffed but said ‘I’ll do it anyway’ and they continue to do it and do it very well.”