The room was filled with blue.

Formal blue uniforms with jackets and department awards, blue working uniforms for walking a beat or riding in a patrol car, blue shorts for members of the Community Policing group who patrol on bikes and blue jeans with holes for a Special Operations Group member. Even the cupcakes had blue icing.

The people in blue were the men and women of the Evanston Police Department, plus a few brave civilians. This diverse group gathered May 19 at the Morton Civic Center. Each person being honored deserved public recognition for going above and beyond. 

Pictured (from left) are Deputy Chief Melissa Sacluti, Deputy Chief Jody Wright, interim Chief Richard Eddington, interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski, Mayor Daniel Biss, with three of the four men honored with the Valor and Officer of the Year awards: Officer Justin Conley, Officer Karl Witt (now with the St. Charles, Ill., Police Department) and Officer Corey McCray. Credit: Evanston Police Department

Many awardees were working and unable to be there. Those who came from a shift still wore their everyday gear: body camera, vest, holstered weapon, flashlight, radio, handcuffs, pens, notebook and cell phone. They walked purposefully and surprisingly nimbly given the weight of the equipment.

Some were accompanied by their families – a spouse and a child or two – but most were there alone.

If there were any showboats on the list of awardees, they were absent – something Mayor Daniel Biss noted during his brief remarks to open the ceremony.

“If I have one complaint about our Police Department,” Biss said, “it is they are not as good as I wish they were about trumpeting their achievements and talking about the great things they do for our community on a day to day basis.”

Biss talked of the importance of public recognition and how the city needs to “celebrate the really extraordinary work that’s been done by the men and women of this department on behalf of this community.” 

He told the awardees: “It’s an important thing for us to do, so y’all feel that recognition, you know that your work is seen, understood and appreciated. But also that we send a signal to our community about the kind of work that is done by this department and the meaning that it carries for all of our wellbeing.”

Interim Police Chief Richard Eddington thanked everyone gathered, saying “we are in the company of heroes.”

Then came many awards and awardees: Eight Letters of Appreciation from the Chief of Police, two Police Service Commendations and 23 Certificates of Recognition to recognize “an act of service normally unexpected in everyday duties,” plus 11 Honorable Mentions recognizing outstanding police work. There were also eight Chief’s Special Recognitions.

The senior officer presenting the awards and provided a short narrative with details about why each awardee’s actions merited special recognition.

It was humbling and moving to listen to the stories of heroism. Here are just a few:

  • The special operations group and Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force who worked for months to dismantle a drug trafficking enterprise that had ben operating in Evanston for 15 years. This led to the arrest of six people on federal charges and 15 people on state-related charges in Cook County. Those recognized were Deputy Chief Jody Wright, Commander Elizabeth Glynn, Commander James Pillars III, Sergeant Christopher Tortorello, Task Force Officer Mikhail Geyer, Detectives Tom Giese, Benjamin Holliman, Jason Kleinpaste, Steve Klopak, Adam Pack, Pauline Pogorzelski, Daniel Rosenbaum, Richard Shanas and Kyle Wideman.
  • Sergeant Chelsea Brown for coordinating a water rescue that saved two capsized boaters.
  • Sergeant Mala Dukler for patiently and empathetically talking to someone experiencing a mental health crisis so that person did not take their own life. 
  • Three telecommunication officers – Michael Stonequist, Richard Clucas and Carl Hasten – for calmly, quickly and thoroughly making smart decisions to keep officers apprised of a suspects’ behavior and whereabouts, weapons fired and civilians injured, thus preventing additional fatalities.
  • Officer Grace Carmichael, who meticulously processed a suspect’s car and found and collected DNA evidence used to arrest and charge a suspect. 

The highest form of recognition is the Valor Award, given to honor an act of outstanding bravery or heroism.

Officers Justin Conley, Adam Nawotka, Corey McCray and Karl Witt each received the Valor Award and the Officer of the Year Award. On Jan. 9, 2021, the two officers went to the CVS store at 101 Asbury Ave. where gunshots were reported. When they arrived, a man ran across the street to a restaurant, where he took a women hostage and then shot her. The officers performed first aid on the women until paramedics arrived; she died later in the hospital. Other officers followed the gunman outside, where shots were exchanged in a nearby parking lot and the gunman was killed ending a nearly four-hour rampage of random shooting and robbing. The gunman killed five people, two of whom died in the hospital, and wounded two others.  

To thank the police in person, the public is invited to the Evanston Police Appreciation Ceremony, sponsored by the Evanston Police Chaplain team, from 3 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, in front of the police station, 1454 Elmwood Ave.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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