East Lansing Police Department Recognizes Outstanding Achievements

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Saturday, February 1, 2020, 8:30 am
By: 
Ann Kammerer

Multiple ELPD officers were recently recognized for outstanding achievement, including those cited for bravery and pictured here (clockwise from upper left): Sgt. Erich Vedder, Sgt. Adam Park, Officer Staci Kole, Officer Justan Horst and Officer Jake Cortez.

Staci Kole has dealt with unusual or challenging situations in her two-and-a-half years with the East Lansing Police Department. One day she intervened to stop a man from stabbing and slashing himself to death.

In spring 2019, Kole was dispatched to a dead-on-arrival call. Someone reported that a man had killed himself with a knife. But when she arrived at the apartment, several residents ran toward her, telling her that the man was still alive and inside, stabbing himself repeatedly in the neck.

“I updated dispatch, then went in prepared with my gun lowered as if he was going to come toward me with a knife,” said Kole. “I had been trained to do that since when someone is suicidal, they sometimes come toward you and try for ‘suicide by cop.’”

What Kole found wasn’t what she expected. Blood coated the kitchen and dripped from the stove and kitchen cabinets. A woman was close by, trying to help a bleeding man who was wielding a knife. Her training and instincts kicked in, and she stepped in to talk the man into turning over the knife. She then instructed the woman to get towels so they could apply pressure on the stab wounds on his chest and chin, and the slices and stabs on his wrists and leg.

Although Kole said it felt like forever, her partner and other ELPD officers arrived within minutes, followed by paramedics. Although the man continued to cry out he wanted to die, he was rushed to the hospital and lived. Later when Kole saw him in court on charges related to the incident, he thanked her for saving his life.

Kole always knew she wanted to be in law enforcement. The 2012 graduate of Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools went straight to Lansing Community College and graduated from LCC’s Police Academy in 2016. She worked a year in Lake Odessa, then joined the ELPD in 2017. Although devoted, Kole never knew the strength of her calling until that spring day in 2019.

“The incident opened my eyes a little more,” she said. “It made me know for sure that this is what I wanted to do with my career and life. I want to help people and be there for them on their worst days.”

High achievers

Kole was among more than a dozen officers and civilians honored in mid-January for outstanding achievements in 2019. Hosted by the ELPD, the annual awards ceremony grants awards for saving lives, exhibiting bravery, curbing drunk driving, and for dedicated service.

Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez of the ELPD remarked that all police officers understand that when they go into law enforcement, they are raising their hand and volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way when needs arise.

“You see that in the awards given this year,” he said. “While these things don’t happen on a daily basis in our community, our officers respond and intervene and keep the situation from getting worse.”

Gonzalez said the awards are a way for the ELPD to recognize the work and dedication of officers, as well as to highlight the value that ELPD brings to the City. The City’s 2020 fiscal year budget allocates about 65 percent of the $38.2 million general fund for public safety functions. Those functions include the work of 53 officers and four K-9 officers, the East Lansing Fire Department, and other public safety functions. Of the $24.9 million earmarked for public safety, the ELPD receives about half—or $12.6 million for the fiscal year.

Officers typically work 12-hour shifts, and respond to major and minor crimes. A day can be mundane and filled with reports and paperwork, or it can be active and dynamic, with officers going from a critical incident to a routine traffic accident and back to a critical incident.

“Having a Big Ten university nearby makes us a unique police department,” Gonzalez said. “We deal with routine law enforcement, but we also have long-running challenges where we have to staff and train and equip for those events.”

Gonzalez remarked that major crimes like criminal sexual conduct, robbery, assault and arson are down over the last 10 years, and that lesser crimes such as disorderly orderly conduct or operating while intoxicated are trending down as well.

“East Lansing is a safe city to live in, but there are instances of significant events that occur that we have to be able to respond to,” Gonzalez said. “They’re things that don’t grab headlines, and we commonly hear people say that they never would have guessed that those things would happen here. Those are the types of events we’ve mapped out in this year’s awards.”

Officers and civilians recognized for their outstanding achievements in 2019 are listed here. Additional information on the work of the East Lansing Police department can be found on the City of East Lansing website.

  • Lifesaving Award: Presented to Sgt. Erich Vedder, Officer Andy Stephenson, Officer Matt Heffelfinger and a civilian for providing CPR and saving the life of a person who was suffering a cardiac arrest while his car was running and sitting at a stop sign.
  • Lifesaving Award: Presented to Officer Austin Nelson and Officer Katelynn Bennett for assisting a woman in distress. Officers could hear a woman inside her apartment, but she was unable to let them in. The officers recognized a medical emergency was in progress, gained entry into the residence, provided aid and requested assistance from the East Lansing Fire Department.
  • Bravery Award: Given to Sgt. Erich Vedder, Sgt. Adam Park, Officer Staci Kole, Officer Justan Horst and Officer Jake Cortez for their response to a person who was repeatedly stabbing himself. Officers placed themselves in harm’s way to intervene and stop the victim, who was determined to hurt himself. The individual was eventually taken into custody and provided the medical treatment he needed.
  • Bravery Award: Given to Officer Katey Harrison, Officer Staci Kole, Officer Tyler Cassidy and Officer Kristy Schwalm for their work at a two-car accident. Officers pulled the driver of one of the vehicles out of the car, which was engulfed in flames. They also assisted the driver of the other vehicle, who was trapped inside.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Award: Presented to Officer Ben Mommersteeg for making 27 drunk driving arrests in 2019.
  • True Blue Award: Given to Retired Officer Jon Armstrong for his continued service and support to ELPD.
  • 2019 Mason Samborksi Civilian of the Year Award: Presented to Jan Rohn from Police Administration for her dedicated service to ELPD and the community.
  • 2019 James Johnson Officer of the Year Award: Presented to Officer Katelynn Bennett for her hard work and continued dedication to ELPD and the community.

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