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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 1:43 am | Fair 50º


Santa Maria Elks Honor Law Enforcement Officers

Seven agencies represented at 44th annual appreciation night

Santa Maria Police Sgt. Russ Mengel talks after receiving an award from Chief Ralph Martin on Wednesday night at the Santa Maria Elks Law Enforcement Appreciation Night.
Santa Maria Police Sgt. Russ Mengel talks after receiving an award from Chief Ralph Martin on Wednesday night at the Santa Maria Elks Law Enforcement Appreciation Night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria police sergeant, a Guadalupe police officer and a senior deputy district attorney were among seven honorees Wednesday at the Santa Maria Elks Law Enforcement Appreciation Night. 

Several hundred current and former law enforcement members in addition to local officials showed up for the event, which has been hosted by the Elks for 44 years.

“This is always one of the biggest events of the year for the Santa Maria Elks Lodge,” said Exalted Ruler Dick Parker. “In a very, very small way, it’s our way of showing our appreciation for all that you do for the community.”

Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin introduced Sgt. Russ Mengel as his agency’s top officer, recognizing the 15-year veteran for developing and implementing an Incident Command System. He also leads the department’s Community Service Unit. 

The Incident Command System ensures supervisors’ vehicles are equipped to serve as mobile command posts during emergencies. 

“Our department has been described now as a model to follow as other agencies implement the ICS system,” Martin said.

Mengel, like the other recipients who followed, expressed appreciation for the recognition.

Six of the honorees stand with Exalted Rulre Dick Parker after the Santa Maria Elks Law Enforcement Appreciation Night. Click to view larger
Six of the honorees stand with Exalted Rulre Dick Parker after the Santa Maria Elks Law Enforcement Appreciation Night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s been a hard year for us in law enforcement throughout the United States,” Mengel said. “We’re lucky to be here and to have the support of the Santa Maria Valley and our partners here in law enforcement.”

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office recognized Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser, who has prosecuted gang cases, including one where criminals threatened a store owner.

"Her passion for this community for doing justice was to hold gang members accountable for intimidating and threatening store owners who were just trying to do their jobs and support our community," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Greco.

Gresser, who joined the department nine years ago, also provides a voice for those who can not speak, Greco said, noting the award recipient successfully presented a case to a grand jury to get criminal indictments against two women accused of killing Solvang ALS patient Heidi Good. 

"I could not think of a better recipient of this award than that person who will stand up for those who are incapable of standing up for themselves," Greco said.

Guadalupe Public Safety Director Gary Hoving said his agency’s members chose Julio Carrillo as the top officer. 

After putting himself through the law enforcement academy, Carrillo has been with agency for six years plus spent another year as a reserve officer. 

“Some of the attributes of Julio is he’s a hard worker, he’s extremely reliable and he’s highly skilled in his profession,” Hoving said. 

Other honorees Wednesday night were: 

» Hector Elenes, deputy probation officer, Santa Barbara County Probation Department. Even after Elenes took a man into custody, his mom and brother expressed gratitude for the law enforcement officer’s respect for the household and family, the probation officer’s colleagues said.

» Donna Torres, office services supervisor, California Highway Patrol, Santa Maria Office. Torres is retiring after 32 years with the agency, and helps keep officers in line, her coworker said.

» Sgt. Matthew McFarlin, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. Presented by Undersheriff Barney Melekian, the award recognized the man who became a law enforcement officer in 1994 and took over the Compliance Response Team created to work with AB 109 inmates to ensure safety and rehabilitation or a return to prison. 

“It’s an incredibly challenging and complex task,” Melekian said. “It demands law enforcement skills and it demands human compassion. Sergeant McFarlin displays all of those qualities.”

McFarlin noted the award is shared by this team, and called on the members to stand up for recognition. 

» Central Coast Safe Street Task Force from the FBI. The task force was credited for an investigation that culminated in a federal criminal indictment charging 13 southern San Luis Obispo County residents with conspiring to distribute high purity methamphetamine and other narcotics, among other charges, 

The indictment targeted the alleged drug trafficking activities of the Rocha family, which operated in and around Santa Maria. 

The investigation involved the FBI, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department and CHP. Law enforcement from several agencies assisted the day of the arrests including Guadalupe and Santa Maria police departments plus other agencies.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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