Community Heroes Awards 2019 Recap

On November 21, 2019 Silent Observer celebrated nine award recipients recognizing their commitment to keeping our West Michigan community safe and prosperous.  At the annual Silent Observer Community Heroes event, members of the law enforcement community, neighborhood organizations, business community and philanthropists were recognized and celebrated for their extraordinary efforts in supporting public safety.  A listing of the nine award recipients is listed below.

After Mac & Shmitty from Star 105.7 kicked off the event and Sheriff Larry Stelma gave the invocation, we heard from two people who wanted to tell about the power of a good Silent Observer tip.  Sometimes the smallest bit of information blows a case wide open because it contains a critical piece of the crime puzzle.  One of Silent Observer’s dearest friends, Ruth Friar, suffered a devastatingly tragic loss and was desperate for answers and justice. Police were able to prove who perpetrated this horrific crime against her family because of a small piece of information called into Silent Observer.  I know it took a lot of courage for Ruth to share her story and we appreciate her very much.

Ian Gibson, Dean of Academic Affairs at Crossroads Alternative High School talked about how his school has benefitted from Silent Observer’s Campus Program.  Not only does Silent Observer offer a safe and anonymous way for our students to report crime occurring in their schools, it alerts school administrators to serious situations happening with their students.  A recent tip brought to light abuse which was happening to one student in her home.

The nine award recipients recognized and celebrated at this very important community event were: 

Detective Dustin Cook & Crime Analyst Jason Cramer –Excellence in Policing Award – Kent County Sheriff Office

  • In the fall of 2018, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office took a report of 60 cartons of this high value cable stolen in Byron Center. Surveillance video captured images of a suspect vehicle. Dustin’s and Jason’s meticulous research they found similar crimes in other counties which then led them to identify several suspects who were running a criminal theft enterprise. After a 7-month investigation, trailer loads of stolen property were recovered and returned to the rightful owners. Five people were arrested and charged with conducting a criminal enterprise among other charges. The ring was responsible for over 60 incidents, the theft of over 1 million dollars of property, covering 3 states and 60 jurisdictions. 

Rodrick Daniels – Making A Difference Community Award – Kingmakers

  • Rodrick Daniels started a non-profit ministry called Kingmakers that seeks to keep men and women from a life on the streets through skill building and work, mentoring and working alongside good role models.   Rodrick hires people who have just gotten out of jail or mentors young people referred to him, so they don’t end up in jail.  He trains them in a trade, how to open a bank account, how to do an estimate and bill for services and he pays these people weekly so they feel confident they can make it on their own.  The end result is teaching a person a skill so they can support themselves and hopefully become better parents.

Sue Knol – Law Enforcement Partnership Award – Meijer

  • On July 14, many law enforcement agencies responded to numerous gun store burglaries that had occurred throughout the county.  Over 40 handguns were stolen that week so detectives contacted Sue requesting assistance in checking store locations for suspects.  Sue was able to find four entering a Meijer Store wearing the same clothing worn during the burglaries which aided in the suspects identities.  Numerous guns were recovered, and the suspects were arrested.  This is just one example of Sue’s exemplary assistance in helping police solve serious crime as she has helped every law enforcement agency in this county in similar ways. 

Austin Lynema – Next Gen Law Enforcement Bridge Builder Award – Grand Rapids Police Dept.

  • While on duty in late February, Officer Lynema noticed a young boy running down the sidewalk, trying to catch his school bus, crying.  When Austin approached the boy, (Thomas), Thomas said he really wanted to go to school as he was a straight-A student and had never missed a day of school. Thomas also shared he was being bullied and didn’t think anyone would show up for his birthday party after school that day. Austin received permission to take him to school and created a lot of buzz and fanfare when they arrived with lights and sirens blaring. That evening, Austin and other GRPD officers went to Thomas’ birthday party but only Thomas’ family was there. Also absent were cake and presents.  Wanting to give Thomas a birthday to remember, the next morning Lynema and other members of the Grand Rapids Police Department decided to surprise Daniel with a birthday party complete with personalized Krispy Kreme donuts a Grand Rapids goodie bag and a singing quartet.  At that time, Austin, age 22, had only been on the job for 6 months. His dedication, concern, and unselfish commitment to the residents he serves makes him an exemplary role model for his department and the people he comes into contact daily. 

Joe Quist – Above & Beyond: Life-Saving Award – Grand Rapids Police Dispatch

  • On June 5, 2019, Joe answered a 9-1-1 transfer call from a crisis hotline that he will never forget. Joe spoke with a suicidal/homicidal subject who intended to harm his former employer with an improvised explosive device. The caller had built a bomb at home and was out driving around in a state of panic. In an intense 15-minute conversation, Joe succeeded in calming him down and convincing him to get help. Joe gently persuaded the caller to park his car, and officers succeeded in taking the suspect into custody without a struggle. This incident drew little attention to Joe, because the actual arrest took place outside of Grand Rapids, in Plainfield Township. Without Joe’s expert call-handling, this person could have lost his life, and could have taken others with him.  Joe has been a dispatcher with Grand Rapids for five years after serving seven years in the US Army. 

Rocio Rodriquez – Building Stronger Neighborhoods Award – Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Assoc.

  • In the 4 years Rocio Rodriguez has worked at the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association she has been a great advocate for the families there. Because of her leadership and tireless efforts, she has helped build strong communications, connections and relationships between Roosevelt Park residents and the Grand Rapids Police Department. Rocio started a Kids Safety Task Force which provides children information about crime prevention, online safety and anti-bullying. Besides providing translation services to GRPD as a volunteer, Rocio coordinates face-to-face meetings between block leaders and GRPD Community Officers so that neighbors become more comfortable to report crime. She has co-led a Neighborhood Police Academy for the past two years that trained over 20 neighbors in public safety and provided them with the opportunity to learn about Silent Observer, how to accurately report issues to the police, and how special units operate within the GPRD.  She has worked at building trust with undocumented residents and has accompanied many women who have experienced domestic violence to court. She is a true bridge builder in the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood. 

Peter Secchia – Silent Observer’s Lifetime Partnership Award

  • Peter Secchia has always believed that a safe community is one that prospers and grows.  That is the reason he has invested in the operations of Silent Observer consistently for the past 25 years.  Not only has he given us generous sponsorships and donations, he has participated and assisted with many of our Roasts of high-profile people in our community.  Peter is a true hero to us and to the countless other organizations in West Michigan that he has funded, supported and taken under his wing to share his wisdom and guidance.  Peter’s friendship and support has been critical to the health and well-being of the Silent Observer Program. We will always be grateful to Peter for his dedication to the mission of the Silent Observer Program. 

Detective D.J. VerHage – Above & Beyond: Investigation and Advocacy Award – Wyoming Police Dept.

  • D.J. VerHage’s recognition is not based on a single extraordinary event, but rather on the consistent, unwavering approach that Detective VerHage takes daily.  He is the consummate professional with a high degree of work ethic, and he approaches each situation with the fairness, gravity, tenaciousness, and compassion that it deserves.  This has been especially evident over the last six years which D.J.  has spent in the Investigative Division for the Wyoming Police.  During this period, he has been the lead investigator on over 1,600 cases ranging from the mundane to the most horrific and heart wrenching incidents which have occurred in West Michigan.  He recognizes that when people call the police or are involved in an investigation, they become important clients of the criminal justice system.  Beyond this, however, he recognizes that they are people first and that they are often people who are hurting based on the circumstances they are facing.  When he speaks to them, he approaches them not just with the goal of obtaining information from them in order to “make a case”, but with a desire to meet them where they are and help them in any way that he can.  He is unwaveringly fair with those who are suspected of crimes while still holding them accountable.  Most notably he walks alongside victims and helps them through the often-daunting process of involvement in the criminal justice system.  After two-and-a-half decades of police work, D.J. provides a shining example of not only what it means to be an outstanding police officer and detective, but also what it means to be an exceptional human being.
Photos from the 2019 Community Heroes Awards