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New officers join Ceres PD
Department singles out employees for awards
Awardees lined up
Ceres Police Department personnel who received awards are: (left to right), Officer of the Year Eric Gallegos, Sergeant of the Year Greg Yotsuya, Support Person of the Year Tammie Johnson, Volunteer of the Year Peggy Cole, Explorer of the Year Giselle Gonzalez and Property Officer of the Year Renee Howerton. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

A special Ceres Police Department ceremony was held Thursday evening to swear in new police officers Bill Carter, Vince Hooper and Krandall "K.J." Vandagriff, as well as new Reserve Officer Jerry Kessler. The event saw the reinstatement of Will King as the city's Abandoned Vehicle Abatement unit officer.

The ceremony also allowed Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith to honor Eric Gallegos as "Officer of the Year"; Greg Yotsuya as "Sergeant of the Year"; Peggy Cole as "Volunteer of the Year"; Giselle Gonzalez as "Explorer of the Year"; Tammie Johnson as "Support Person of the Year"; and Renee Howerton as "Property Officer of the Year."

Chief Smith said he is in the process of filling another police officer vacancy toward the goal of filling all 46 positions he's been allocated in the budget. Hiring an officer takes about two months.

"We've been fortunate to fill the vacancies quickly," said Smith.

That's a different scenario than Ceres faced in 2015 and 2016 when officers were leaving for better paying positions in the Bay Area. Smith said Ceres has been attracting experienced officers from neighboring cities because of its retirement package.

"I can't remember the last time I hired a police officer out of the academy because there's so many openings in law enforcement right now that if they've got their background straight they can go where they want. So they go for the higher paid departments."

Smith theorized that fewer people want to become police officers because what's going on in American culture with disrespect and attacks on police officers over the last couple of years.

"It's just not been a good time to be a police officer," said Smith. "I'm hoping that will change because it starts at the top."

Escalon born and raised Vandagriff attended Modesto Junior College and graduated from the Ray Simon Regional Criminal Justice Training Center. He began as law enforcement career in Escalon in 2008, working as a reserve officer until 2011, when he was hired full-time. He was hired by Ceres PD last May.

Attending the ceremony were his parents Krandall and Dorothy Vandagriff. His mother, who recently retired as Escalon Police Services manager after 38 years, pinned on his badge.

Officer Bill Carter comes to Ceres with 15 years of law enforcement experience having worked for the Dos Palos, Angels Camp and Oakdale police departments. He hails from Merced County where he graduated from Gustine High School. He attended Modesto and Merced junior colleges and graduated from the MJC Police Academy in 1986.

Carter and his wife Paula have a 14-year-old son, and a 12-year-old daughter who pinned on his badge.

Police Officer Vince Hooper grew up in Patterson and Stockton, graduating from Lincoln High School before studying at CSU Fresno and Stanislaus State. Hooper graduated from the MJC Academy in 1997 and was hired by Patterson Police Department before the city contracted with the Sheriff's Office. He spent 17 years at the department where he was assigned to various special details. Before Chief Smith hired him last month, Hooper spent a year with the Stanislaus State Police Department. Witnessing his swearing-in were his wife Lori, their daughters and his parents, Allen and Vee Hooper. Lori did the honors of pinning on his badge during the ceremony.

Returning to Ceres Police Department after a short "retirement" is Will King as the AVA Officer. King worked as the Ceres AVA Officer from 2003 until he stepped down in 2015. He decided to come back and resume the AVA Officer responsibilities last month. A brother-in-law of Ceres Police Sgt. Pat Sullivan, King was raised in Arkansas until he was 16, and moved to Ceres where he graduated from high school. He and his wife of 42 years, Becky King, have three children, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Reserve Police Officer Jerry Kessler retired as a California Highway Patrol officer in 2013 but decided to work for the Ceres Police in April as a reserve officer. He is specializing in commercial enforcement and traffic collisions. Raised in Willows, Orland and Red Bluff, Kessler graduated from Mercy High School. He graduated from the CHP Academy in1983 and immediately was assigned to the CHP where he spent 31 years. Three of those years were in Hayward, two in Los Banos and 26 in Modesto. Two nephews are CHP sergeants. Jerry and wife Judy and have five children ranging in age from 11 to 35. Watching the milestone were Judy, parents Bob and Jeanette Kessler and his11-year-old son Ethan who pinned on his badge.

Annual awards given

Eric Gallegos
Eric Gallegos was named "Officer of the Year" for his loyalty, positive outlook and an outstanding work ethic and is an asset to the department, said Chief Smith.
"He is pro-active, very cool and doesn't complain about Code 8 calls," said Smith.

Officer Gallegos was hired by the Ceres Police in October, 2014.

Greg Yotsuya
Greg Yotsuya, who joined the department as a reserve officer in September, 1990, was selected as "Sergeant of the Year." He joined the ranks of full-time in April, 1996 and was promoted to sergeant in early 2016.

The police command staff, consisting of Chief Smith, Captain Rick Collins, lieutenants Chris Perry, James Yandell and Pat Crane, chose Yotsuya for the honor because of his hard work, dedication, and management of several major projects including RIMS and the implementation of and training officers for use of new body-worn cameras.

"He conducted much of this work while on light duty with an injured hand and while dealing with the sudden passing of his father Terry," noted Smith. At the same time he remained committed to his patrol team and the ancillary assignment of supervising the Field Training Officer (FTO) program.

"Greg's done an outstanding job," said Chief Smith.
Greg is married to CPD senior dispatcher Shawnna Yotsuya.

Giselle Gonzalez
Described as a leader among her peers, Giselle Gonzalez was selected as the "Explorer of the Year." The Downey High School junior became an explorer scout in 2015. She was singled out as dependable, responsible and diligent and one of the most active explorers who is always willing to pitch in and help out.

"She doesn't wait to be asked, but seeks out opportunities to be of service to others," said the chief. "If she doesn't know how to do something, she asks. She catches on very quickly."

Last July she took charge of staffing and scheduling coverage of the Explorer Scout fireworks booth.
Giselle is currently earning a grade point average of 3.6. When she graduates she plans on joining the Marines.

Peggy Cole
Because she is willing to work without pay, and described as "super nice to everyone and is the best volunteer," Peggy Cole was named "Volunteer of the Year." Peggy began volunteering with the Ceres Police Department Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program in 2013 and during her almost time has volunteered in the Records Department and in the Evidence Room. Chief Smith said Cole has embraced her role as a volunteer with great enthusiasm and "has been able to help our Evidence CSO in wonderful ways." The chief added that Peggy "going to absolutely kill us with donuts that she brings in every week."

Tammie Johnson
Senior Dispatcher Tammie Johnson was honored as "Support Person of the Year."

A Ceres Police dispatcher since July 2006 and promoted to Senior Dispatcher in August, Tammie was called "hands-down the best dispatcher ever" by Smith. He said the wife of Sergeant Trenton Johnson is "great to work with and always goes the extra mile to help out patrol officers. She is always fun and full of positivity."

Renee Howerton
Smith also recognized Ceres Police Department Community Service Officer Renee Howerton who on Feb. 16 was named the 2016 Central Valley Chapter Property Officer of the Year. She is now in the running for state Property Officer of the Year with the winner to be announced in April at a Southern California event. Renee was hired by CPD in March 1990 and started as an office assistant. The title was changed the following year to Records Clerk and she remained in this position for two years. In 1992 she was promoted to CSO in charge of the Property and Evidence Room. She was nominated by Tricia Panos, who assists Howerton in the Evidence Room.

Police Chaplain Mark Whitehead delivered invocation, offering up a prayer for law enforcement. He also prayed for comfort for the families of CHP officer Lucas Chellew who died the day before during a Sacramento car chase of suspect Alberto Quriroz; and 28-year Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer who was shot and killed on Feb. 20 as he was investigating an accident. He then led in a moment of silence for them.

"We thank you for the men and women of the Ceres Police Department who served well the citizens of Ceres," said Whitehead in his prayer. "We know that you do have a special place in your heart for peace makers. Your Word tells us, ‘Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called sons of God.' As these brave officers serve our city, we ask you to remind them that wisdom comes from you and is theirs for the asking."

He asked that God would "send angels to walk with them, and guide them and protect them and help them."