True blue

Colorado Springs officers, civilian staff member win Daniels award

For as long as he can remember, Richard Gonzalez wanted to be a police officer. Now a patrol officer with the Colorado Springs Police Department, the 33-year-old Gonzalez relishes the chance to encourage the next generation of those who dream of donning the badge.

So on July 21, when a Southeast resident stopped into the Sand Creek division from which Gonzalez is based to request an officer wish his 5-year-old grandson a happy birthday, Gonzalez gladly volunteered.  The child’s name is Jonah, and, much like Gonzalez at that age, he loves the police. His grandfather thought it would make Jonah’s birthday that much more special if an officer was to swing by the party and make a guest appearance.

“When I was a kid in the DARE program – back when we used to have that – my mom threw a birthday party for me and our DARE officer took time from his busy day to come,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to have that same opportunity.”

But duty called, and Gonzalez found himself too busy to make the celebration. He called Jonah’s family, apologized and scheduled something even better – a private party at the neighborhood substation.

The precinct threw their littlest fan a proper birthday bash, complete with cake, a tour of the substation and the chance to get up close and personal with squad cars. Gonzalez, who oversaw the preparations and paid for the treats out of pocket, can’t hide his enthusiasm when he talks about its impact.

“He was just in awe,” the officer said with a wide grin.

That enthusiasm was rewarded Monday, when Gonzalez became one of the first six Colorado Springs police staff members to receive the prestigious Bill Daniels True Blue Award. The recognition is reserved for officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to better the community in which they serve.

“Officer Gonzalez took dozens of pictures with Jonah and his family, all of which had an extremely positive impact,” the accommodation for the award read.

Other honorees from the department included Officers Warren Lustul and Jessica Kuhn, who, with the help of Elena Courtney of the public information office, helped a 4-year-old with advanced-stage cancer become an officer for a day. Officers Malcom Wells and Ezekiel Krueger were likewise recognized for paying for a hotel room for an indigent mother and her three children, and for putting her in touch with the El Paso County Department of Human Services and city Homeless Outreach Team to get her the services she needed.

Bo Peretto is the senior vice president for the ethics initiative and communication at the Daniels Fund. He said these and other stories of compassion are not uncommon in the policing world. But they are under-shared.

“Officers do so many wonderful things that go under the radar,” Peretto said. “WE ask the departments to share stories of different things that their officers and civilian staff do.

“These stories are common. (Staff members) just take that extra step to help the citizens of Colorado Springs.”

In honor of the recognition, the Daniels Fund, which also provides grants, scholarships and ethics education throughout Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, presented the department cadet program with a $2,000 check.

Gonzalez both glowed and seemed a little baffled by the recognition.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this at all,” he said. “I did it because I wanted to do it. This was the icing on top of the cake of being a police officer.”