Sergeant Grey: “Remind me, Officer Nolan, again, how the chief feels about you.”
Officer Nolan: “Oh, big fan, sir.”
—The Rookie, ABC Television
For the third year, the annual Reserve Officer of Year and Twice a Citizen gala was held at the Skirball Cultural Center, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. This year’s event, held on May 4, sold out, with over 500 attendees. As LAPRF Co-President Karla Ahmanson announced, “Reserves matter, and the attendance here tonight proves that.” Since the night coincided with Cinco de Mayo weekend celebrations, the standard fare was replaced by cuisine celebrating Southern California’s Mexican-American heritage and culture. Also, this year the LAPD has been celebrating its 150-year anniversary with a series ceremonies and demonstrations, and the gala festivities were no exception. There were Vintage Coppers in their classic uniforms and, because the gala was held on “Star Wars Day,” Stormtroopers were at scene, appearing on the very busy red carpet and throughout the evening: “May the Fourth be with you.”
Reserve Officers of the Year and Service Pins
This year, the Department Reserve Officer of the Year honor went to Steven J. Robinson, the South Bureau Officer of the Year. He was nominated by both 77th Area and Major Crimes (MCD). MCD stated: “In 2018, he worked 400 hours on patrol and over 600 hours at Major Crimes [and was] a member of the Transnational Organized Crime Section, participating in multiple investigations. He recently investigated a billion-dollar criminal scheme and serial arsons perpetrated by the Armenian Organized Crime Syndicate, developing and filing a conspiracy case involving bank fraud, grand theft and ID theft. His efforts enabled a larger case’s success by ATF, FBI, Homeland Security and IRS. He created a foundation [that raises] funds to provide police officers in five geographic locations with additional equipment, training and skills.”
The other Bureau Officers of the Year were Virginia G. Hernandez (Rampart), Central Bureau; Craig S. Kusaba (Mission), Valley Bureau; Michael Sellars (Hollywood), West Bureau; and Patrick Yomba (Commercial Crimes), Specialized Divisions. A full list of all area and division honorees can be viewed here.
Service pins were presented to officers with 20 or more years of service. Thirty-five year pins went to three officers, Charlies Nicgorski (Training Division), Garth Pillsbury (Hollywood) and Candice Weber (West Valley); a 40-year pin went to Steve Whitelaw (West Valley); a 45-year pin went to Jose Espinoza (Hollenbeck); and a 50-year pin went to Ronald Batesole (West Traffic). The full list of officers presented with service pins can be viewed here.
During opening remarks, LAPRF Co-President Michael Sellars said he noticed something “extraordinary” at the Reserve Officer Inspection (on April 13), and “we see it here tonight … the command staff, our veteran reserve officers … we’ve kinda all grown up together. We’ve been classmates, partners … Take away the reserve program, pull away at that thread, you’d have a totally different department, wouldn’t you?”
Gary Hazel, a retired reserve officer who graduated from the first line reserve class in 1967/1968, attended the gala with his daughter, Suzie Hazel. He worked for 35 years at 77th, Hollywood and Hollenbeck areas. His serial number is R0006.
During an “In Memoriam” tribute, the gala remembered Reserve Motor Officer Gary Becker (West Traffic Division), who served 40 years and was posthumously awarded WTD’s Reserve Officer of the Year, and retired Specialist Jose Castro, who served 10 years at 77th before having to retire in 2010.
Chief of Police Michel Moore
This was Michel Moore’s first reserve gala as chief of police and as honorary chairperson. He was joined by co-hosts Amy Aquino of Amazon’s Bosch and Daryl Evans of the Los Angeles Kings, along with Dinner Chair Tracy Hernandez.
Last year, Chief Moore moved the reserve program from the Office of Administration to the Office of Special Operations, under Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala. Assistant Chief Girmala introduced Chief Moore at the gala: “During the reorganization process of the Department, as Chief Moore took the helm, one of the things he made perfectly clear to me in an early July phone call was that he wanted to see the Reserve Corps reinvigorated and given the prominence it has had in years past. This was not an ask; this was a mandate. And it was conveyed to me with passion, security of purpose, with a commitment to see that the men and women of the LAPD Reserve Corps are honored each and every day in their workplaces, and beyond.”
Chief Moore began by honoring a World War II veteran in the audience, Sidney Maiten, 93-year-old father of Specialist Barry Maiten. “My Dad was so very happy to have been honored by our chief … he is still talking about it,” Barry told The Rotator.
After a minute-long ovation for the war hero, the Chief said: “The reserves are an important part of this organization. In our 150th year, this Department more than ever needs every member of every community in Los Angeles to share in this responsibility: How do we police the city? How do we provide for the safety of the city? And reserves, despite our best efforts and trials and tribulations, have not always been a welcomed member of that endeavor.”
The Chief referred to the recent difficulties of not having enough equipment for reserve officers. He announced, “[Reserve Officer] Steve Fazio, we’re going to get you radios!” He explained: “…Because what we recognize is that, as we issue you responsibilities and we demand of you your service and that you represent us on and off duty as a member of this great organization, we are also due to you what you need to accomplish those tasks and those responsibilities. And as chief, I’m proud of the work of Chief Girmala, Commander Woodyard, Captain Ponce and [the] men and women who have gone again at this effort to provide the necessary support, training … The inspections can be a bit of a pain, but the training and development of our people is important to me, it’s important to this organization…”
The Chief finished by mentioning the families: “Lastly, as we celebrate tonight and say thank you, I also recognize that there are family members here tonight, and friends … Our reserve officers and volunteers come into this Department and they serve in a host of capacities … but what they leave behind, at home, is a son or daughter, husband, wife, friend, colleague [who] do not know what they’re doing exactly and worries about them … Just know that as chief and as a member of this organization, we thank you for that dedication, for that support and for that help and assistance, so that reserve — that officer — can come back home, decompress and get ready for the next day. So for the families, I would ask all of us to give to them our respect, our appreciation and our thanks.”
Andrea Friedman Award and Lifetime Achievement Award
Assistant Chief Girmala presented two awards. First, she presented the Foundation’s Andrea Friedman Award to Reserve Officer James Lombardi. “Love of work and love of family. Dedication beyond measure. Cherished partner. Undercover officer. Vice officer. Beloved father. Altar boy … bet you’re wondering who this is,” she mused.
The award is, as Chief Girmala described, named after Andrea Friedman, who served as an LAPD reserve officer for 15 years and on the Foundation Board for 15 years. It is an award that is not given out every year. “It takes a special person with special qualities to have their name associated with Andrea, her spirit,” Chief Girmala said. She then revealed Lombardi’s serial number and hire date as the final clue: R0047 and October 19, 1969. “Fifty years of distinguished service, most of it at Central Division.” In fact, Chief Girmala said that when she worked as a watch commander at Central, Jim worked so often she thought that he was a full-time officer, before finally seeing the “R” in a report.
Lombardi, with his daughter, Lisa Lombardi O’Reilly, has just written and published his autobiography, A Sense of Humor. “Humor,” Jim said in his acceptance speech, “you have to smile. It’s tough sometimes, especially for me right now. Tough guys aren’t supposed to cry.”
Second, Chief Girmala surprised Reserve Officer Michael Sellars with a Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’m proud to say that the person receiving this award also happened to be a cherished partner of mine, who worked with me in a black and white, in an A car, in Hollywood Area in the mid-’90s.” This was during a time in Hollywood and elsewhere, when reserve officers worked to help the Department meet its minimum patrol deployment needs.
“Mike furthered his success to the Department by taking The Rotator newsletter to a whole new level. In 2008, he took that publication under his wing and helped memorialize the great work that the reserves continue to do. In 2009, he became a member of the reserve Board. And then, in 2013, a co-president. In that capacity, he helped to push some very, very unconventional yet critical initiatives forward. The Legal Defense Plan … [and, with Chief Moore’s support], a motion in front of the city council to raise your stipend — something that hasn’t been done for years.”
Twice a Citizen Honorees: David W. Fleming and The Rookie’s Nathan Fillion and Alexi Hawley
Dinner Chair Tracy Hernandez introduced David W. Fleming, “a friend for the ages … a modern-day civic cheerleader” who has a long résumé of Los Angeles philanthropy and service, including being the creator/founding chair of the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed). He is currently the senior adviser to California State Senator Bob Hertzberg and chair of Town Hall Los Angeles.
Chief Moore added afterward, “David Fleming, here from the San Fernando Valley, a man who has been a staunch advocate for decades, brought the city to recognize … that the city exists for the water that came to the city through that valley … A pioneer, an advocate. We haven’t always agreed, but what’s best is that you are a change agent, you make things happen, so God bless you and congratulations.”
Fleming, honored, yet putting things in perspective, said he was reminded by something said by Jack Benny, “one of the greatest comedians ever” with whom he had the privilege of knowing: “He was once getting an award like this … he got up to the microphone, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know I really don’t deserve this award … but then again I got arthritis and I didn’t deserve that either.” He finished by saying, “Just as we do with going out of our way to thank the members of the armed services, so should we do with our police officers.”
Despite portraying sergeants wearing scruffy beards in uniform and taking other poetic licenses, The Rookie has a theme near and dear to those who have become reserve officers. The ABC TV series follows John Nolan, a 40-year-old man who becomes the oldest (full-time) rookie at the Los Angeles Police Department. As Bill and Karla Ahmanson’s inside front cover ad in the gala journal quoted Nolan saying: “Helping people when you can look them in the eye is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Nathan Fillion, who plays Nolan, told the audience, “If you don’t know me, that’s OK. I’m probably a pretty big deal with your mom.”
He then said, “It’s been humbling to say the least. The more I learn about this incredible endeavor you’ve embarked on, the more it terrifies me, and the more grateful I become for all of you, for taking this on, for the rest of us, thank you very much. I’m embarrassed when I walk around this room, when I was outside having pictures with some of you, the gratitude, people coming up to me and thanking me for what we do, which is simply to entertain. But I want to say for what you do, for protecting us, for keeping us safe, thank you.”
Alexi Hawley, creator and producer of The Rookie, spoke of the comparison of the rookie in the series and the LAPD reserve officers: “John Nolan realized that there was something important that he needed to do with his life, and he is risking everything to do it. No one exemplifies this same spirit more than you — the reserve officers. And, like Nolan, you bring your unique life experiences to the job. In television, we call it your superpower, because — well, TV is silly — but the point is, as a reserve officer, each of you enters the Department with a different set of life skills. You have knowledge and intuition that a 20-something rookie doesn’t.”
The Foundation presented this year’s LAPRF Emeritus College scholarships to Dalton Harvey, son of Reserve Officer Thomas Harvey, and Reserve Officers Azatouri Akopian, Darla Cozzarelli and Faisal Rashid.
Attendees included Chief of Police Michel Moore; Assistant Chiefs Beatrice Girmala, Jon Peters and Robert Arcos; Deputy Chiefs Justin Eisenberg, Dennis Kato, Horace Frank and Regina Scott; Commanders Gerald Woodyard and Marc Reina; Administrator Gloria Grube; Former Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur; and several LAPD commanders and captains from all divisions.
Other previous honorees in attendance included former City Councilmember and Reserve Officer Mitch Englander, former City Councilmember and Reserve Officer Dennis Zine, former Foundation President Mel Kennedy, businessman and Reserve Officer Steve Fazio and David Jacobs.
Sela Ward, star of the television series, FBI, and many others, was also in attendance, along with Jon Huertas, one of the stars of This Is Us, who in the past portrayed Castle’s buddy, homicide detective Javier Esposito, on Castle. Actor, producer and Reserve Foundation Board member Ryan Cassidy also attended.
Among the dignitaries in attendance was His Majesty Vincent Tchoua Kemajou, King of Bazou, Cameroon.
The LAPRF would like to thank all of the donors and supporters, including the Ahmanson Foundation, Janet and Steve Robinson, KPMG, Steve Soboroff, Peter Lowy, Gary and Linda Goldfein, Entertainment One TV USA Inc., East West Bank, the Leonetti/O’Connell Family Foundation, Steve and Alice Yslas, Ambassador Frank and Kathy Baxter, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, MUFG Union Bank, Tom and Judy Flesh, Patricia Glaser/Glaser Weil, Drew McCoy Charitable Trust, L.A. Police Academy Magnet School, NBC Universal, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Bruce Meyer, L.A. Police Command Officers Association, Erica and Vin Di Bona, Los Angeles Police Protective League, Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union, John Wagner, Roger Andrews, 911MEDIA, Warren Dern, The Parker Foundation, Mid-West Wholesale Lighting Corp. and many more.
Thanks to our auction donors, including Chief of Police Michel Moore, LAPD SWAT, LAPD Air Support, Fiji Airways, NBC Universal, Center Theatre Group, Alaska Airlines, Mike Rosson — California Supply, Bernard Khalili and the many others listed in our program.
Special thanks to the command staff and the Reserve Unit; the Skirball Cultural Center — Uri Herschel, Founder/CEO; Chris Porteous, Event Coordinator; Tracy Young for coordinating PR; Keli McClary for coordinating favors and centerpieces; Randy Bellous Productions; Joan Ford; Deborah Smith and all of our terrific volunteers; the Vintage Coppers; the 501st Legion; and Scherr Lillico, Jenna Slabodnick and Brianne Lillico from The Proper Image Events.