Columbus Police Cpl. Thomas Hill was named Officer of the Year during the Police Department's annual Employee Recognition Ceremony Wednesday.
Hill, who joined the police department in June of 2007, was recognized as Officer of the Month in January for his commitment to police duties on and off-duty. Police Chief Rick Boren described an incident in which Hill apprehended three suspects that were involved in a shooting incident at McDonalds on Macon Road. Boren said Hill's willingness to assist his fellow officers off-duty may have saved lives that day.
"He never knows when to go home," Boren said. "He has a badge that does not have a time clock. He works 24/7 representing not only this department but the citizens in this community."
Hill also received the recognition because of his high case clearance rate. He works with the Bureau of Investigations in the Burglary and Theft Unit.
Boren also noted that Hill is being recognized by an Atlanta citizen for "representing the Columbus Police Department in an exemplary manner." Hill returned car keys that had been left in the door of a car to a citizen before leaving an Atlanta restaurant, according to police documents.
Others recognized during Wednesday's ceremony include six officers given the Medal of Valor for displaying gallantry and a lack of regard for personal safety during the course of duty. Captain J.D. Hawk, Cpl. Lourdes Aviles, Cpl. Joel McNeal, Cpl. Mari Menendez, Cpl. Amanda Hogan and Officer Travis Contreras were presented with the Medal of Valor for their performance during a hostage situation which took place in February.
Boren described how the officers responded to a 911 call in which a woman was holding her mother hostage and threatening to harm herself or anyone else who approached the house. Hawk handled negotiations with the woman for some time, but when it became clear that the woman was not coming out, the mother emerged from the house holding what appeared to be AK-47 which she had managed to wrest from her daughter.
Officers then noticed fire coming from the living room of the home. Despite the fact that the woman was potentially still armed with a hand gun, the officers kicked in the door and cleared the house, finally locating the woman unarmed in one of the bedrooms.
"Captain Hawk and Officer Contreras were both treated on scene for smoke inhalation," Boren said. "It could have been very bad for the officers. Each one of these officers here today represented their community well. They saved a citizen of our community and they did so without fear of what could happen when they went through that door."
Officers John Papy, Delante Odom, Sam Orwig, Alan Sinquefield and Bill Williams were also given the Operation Noble Eagle/Enduring Freedom Service Awards for their dual position in the U.S. Military and local and state law enforcement.
In addition to officer recognition, Boren presented a Community Leader award to Terry Gumbert, a citizen who created the neighborhood watch e-mail list Windemede. The e-mail service reaches 900 people in the Muscogee County panhandle and parts of Harris County, Talbot County and Marion County and alerts those citizens of events ranging from burglaries to missing animals. Boren said law enforcement officers are able to send out community alerts and respond to citizen tip-offs easily through the e-mail service. Windemede, he said, has assisted officers with making several arrests.
Gumbert is working on a website for the service, which will be hosted at windemede.com. Those who live in the areas Windemede serves and wish to sign up for the service may e-mail email@example.com.
The Recognition Ceremony took place in two sessions Wednesday to accommodate employee schedules.
During the morning ceremony, which took place at 8 a.m., over a dozen officers were recognized for their service and commitment to the force. Awards were given in two categories: Safe Driving and Service.
Reverend Robert Beckum of St. Luke United Methodist Church, who was invited to speak at the ceremony, stressed the importance of giving public safety officials attention and praise during his morning speech.
"Every day, a whole corps of people, officers who bear the city's name on their chest, are concerned about the community, not themselves," Beckum said. "I don't know what makes up that type of courage, but I want to know more about it, because I believe that's the heart and soul of what's best about our Columbus community."
Award recipients are chosen through a committee of nine people representing every bureau. These committee members are appointed every two years by the Chief of Police Office, Boren said.
Notable among Wednesday morning's honorees was Maj. Gene Hillhouse, who was recognized for serving 45 years with the Columbus Police Department. Hillhouse was also given an award for his commitment to safe driving during those 45 years. He was awarded a $100 City of Columbus gift certificate, along with a pin and a plaque.