The IACP is proud to once again partner with Target to recognize exemplary performance in professional policing from law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally.
As the most prestigious law enforcement award of the IACP, the Police Officer of the Year Award recognizes outstanding and heroic achievement among police officers across the globe and highlights the sacrifices made daily by law enforcement’s finest. Four finalists will be selected, one of which will be named the Police Officer of the Year.
We are honored to present the winner of the 2014 Police Officer of the Year Award:
Officer James F. Cunningham
San Francisco Police Department
On the morning of July 6, 2013, approximately 35 minutes before noon, Officer Cunningham was patrolling the north end of the San Francisco International Airport airfield. Having no knowledge from the control tower or the cockpit that there were any problems with the day’s flights, Officer Cunningham continued his normal patrol duties. Suddenly, on the opposite end of the airfield Officer Cunningham witnessed an airline crash into the seawall prior to reaching the runway. He would later learn that he had just observed the crash of Asiana Flight 214.
Officer Cunningham accelerated his vehicle to the crash site despite knowing he would be going into a potentially catastrophic scene. Without regard to his own personal safety and without any type of breathing apparatus, he boarded the burning plane. Once on board, the officer cleared paths for injured passengers to exit, rescued those trapped in their seatbelts, and aided the severely injured off the plane. Officer Cunningham successfully aided in saving the lives of 304 passengers.
We are honored to present the three finalists who are equally as deserving of recognition for their efforts:
Senior Officer Amador Gonzalez
Corpus Christi (Texas) Police Department
On March 20, 2014, Senior Officer Amador Gonzalez was responding to assist a fellow officer who was attempting to make contact with a person who fit the description of a prowler. As Officer Gonzalez arrived on scene, he observed the suspect pull out a gun and begin firing at him and the other officer. Seconds later, he witnessed the other officer go down after being hit in the neck and leg. Officer Gonzalez would later learn that he had been struck by a bullet as well.
Officer Gonzalez immediately returned fire, wounding the suspect in the chest. The suspect then got into one of the patrol vehicles and attempted to flee the scene. In his attempt to evade capture, the suspect struck a telephone pole and was later apprehended. Despite being wounded, Officer Gonzalez rushed to the aid of his fellow officer who was severely bleeding and applied a tourniquet. Officer Gonzalez’s quick thinking, action, and selfless service, helped save the life of a fellow officer.
Sergeant Lawrence A. Litzell, Jr.
Florida Highway Patrol
On the evening of December 28, 2013, Trooper Litzell attempted to pull over a vehicle for speeding. When the vehicle didn’t comply, Trooper Litzell knew he had a pursuit on his hands. As the pursuit continued, the driver of the fleeing vehicle led Trooper Litzell into a heavily populated area, giving clear indication of his recklessness and lack of concern for the safety and well-being of the public. Knowing that innocent lives were at risk, Trooper Litzell made the decision to terminate the pursuit.
Not long after ending the pursuit he observed the suspect’s vehicle enter a parking lot with its headlights off. As he drove towards the suspect vehicle, he saw two individuals exit the vehicle and flee on foot. Trooper Litzell continued to follow the driver a short distance in his patrol vehicle before making the decision to pursue the suspect on foot. Not knowing the suspect had a .25 caliber handgun, Trooper Litzell continued towards the suspect when the suspect fired a shot that hit Trooper Litzell in the face. Realizing that his life was in grave danger, the Trooper attempted to gain control of the suspect’s weapon while pulling for his own duty weapon. Despite being seriously injured, Trooper Litzell fired two fatal rounds into the chest of the suspect.
Officer Justin R. Wester
New Bern (North Carolina) Police Department
On March 28, 2014, Officer Justin R. Wester was responding to a call for back-up assistance from a fellow officer. Once Officer Wester arrived on scene, he was made aware that the fellow officer was conducting a traffic stop on a bicycle for an equipment violation. During the course of the stop, that officer detected the odor of marijuana coming from the violator and requested back up. While the officer was questioning the suspect, the suspect became verbally aggressive and took off running.
The officer questioning the violator and Officer Wester then pursued the suspect on foot. In the course of the foot pursuit, the suspect pulled out a handgun and fired at the officers. The officer that originally questioned the suspect was shot in the face and fatally wounded. Observing his fellow officer go down, Officer Wester was determined to apprehend the suspect. As he pursued the suspect and ordered him to stop, the suspect ignored the orders and fired at Officer Wester, striking him in the leg. Despite his injury, Officer Wester continued to pursue the suspect returning fire and fatally wounding the suspect.
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2013 Police Officer of the Year Recipient:
Trooper Timothy Strohmeyer, Pennsylvania State Police