Richmond’s top public safety heroes honored at annual Kiwanis event

From left to right, Fire Capt. Marcus Faumui, 'Citizen of the Year' Ivonne Malave, and 'Firefighter of the Year' Adam Ramirez, at the Kiwanis Club of Richmond Public Safety Awards Dinner on Friday, April 28.

While an understaffed Richmond Police Department lacks the investigative resources to track down all leads in the city, one patrol officer has been taking it upon himself to do the work of a detective, leading to massive police busts last year involving a local gang and also a human trafficker whose victims included a 15-year-old girl.

That patrol officer is Terry Thomas, who was honored as the 2022 Police Officer of the Year at the Kiwanis Club of Richmond Public Safety Awards Dinner on Friday, April 28.

The annual Public Safety Awards dinner celebrates the best of the best when it comes to public safety professionals who serve Richmond. Also honored on April 28 were Firefighter of the Year Adam Ramirez, Police Dispatcher of the Year Laura Canelo, Richmond Firefighters Local 188 Citizen of the Year Ivonne Malave, and Police Professional Staff Member of the Year Eric Tam. The Teamwork Award was given to the Communications Team.

Officer Thomas exemplifies what it means to go above and beyond the call of duty, according to Richmond police Chief Bisa French. His positive attitude, hard work ethic and eagerness to connect with the community has resulted in successful outcomes, she said.

Officer Terry Thomas speaks at the Kiwanis Club of Richmond Public Safety Awards Dinner on Friday, April 28.

Last year, for example, a concerned citizen contacted Officer Thomas about multiple shootings and burglaries in the Crescent Park neighborhood. He took on the unofficial role as a detective and began investigating, in part by reviewing countless hours of surveillance footage. He identified members of the Crescent Park criminal street gang as assailants and connected them to the crimes. He wrote search warrants for multiple cellphones, social media accounts and homes in the Crescent Park housing complex. The search warrants resulted in the recovery of 14 illegally-possessed firearms, and the arrest of eight gang members who were charged with a long list of crimes, Chief French said.

Also last year, Officer Thomas launched a separate investigation into human trafficking, where he developed information on a suspect that was sexually trafficking several women, including a 15-year-old girl, according to Chief French. He conducted followup interviews and wrote search warrants, resulting in the recovery of firearms, the arrest of the suspect and the rescue of several women, including the minor.

“This past February, the suspect was sentenced to 66 years to life in prison for sexual assault and human trafficking,” Chief French said. “These are just two examples of the great work performed by Officer Thomas.”

In receiving the Police Office of the Year award, Officer Thomas expressed deep gratitude to God, his family, colleagues and the community.

“I really care about the community,” he said, adding, “Working in Richmond, I’ve been given an opportunity to give back, and to provide for my family. It’s an honor to represent the community. And I plan to continue the relationships I’ve built in the community for the rest of my life.”

Firefighter of the Year Adam Ramirez

Adam Ramirez is a Richmond native who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in just three years as a Richmond firefighter.

Richmond Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Osorio said that dedication began as soon as Ramirez took on the job. Ramirez has supported the annual Richmond Fire and Police Toy Program since his hiring, initially taking on the extra responsiblity of coordinating the pick up and drop off of donation barrels. When the toy drive came up short on funds last year, Ramirez took it upon himself to organize a raffle at East Brother Beer Co., which raised another $3,000 to ensure families wouldn’t go without toys last holiday season.

Ramirez also raised money for Moving Forward 510 by assembling a team for the local organziation’s We Run Richmond 5K event.

Richmond Firefighter Adam Ramirez (holding ax) alongside Battalion Chief Rico Rincon. (Photo courtesy of Richmond Firefighters Local 188)

“On his days off, he’s gone to Richmond High, to Making Waves Academy, he does everything he can to encourage youth in the city to be part of our youth academy program or if they’re interested in a career in the fire service,” Osorio said, adding that Ramirez also “goes out of his way to receive training.”

He’s currently working alongside Battalion Chief Rico Rincon and other city staff to develop a pathway program for Richmond youth wanting to join RFD or the fire service.

Amid record staffing shortages at the RFD, Ramirez also steps up to work extra shifts so his colleagues can spend time with their families, Osorio said.

“Adam exemplifies the values of organization, he expemplies what’s best about this community, and he’s truly an example of a servant leader,” the deputy chief added.

Ramirez called it an “honor” to receive the award, adding he thought his colleagues were joking at first.

“I’m only one piece of this hard working machine that is the Richmond Fire Department,” Ramirez said. “All these guys could have been up here. We all work hard. We all grind. It’s a team effort.”

Police Dispatcher of the Year Laura Canelo

Laura Canelo is no stranger to Richmond. She’s dedicated 30 years of her career as a Richmond police and fire dispatcher. And despite the difficult role of handling challenging 911 calls, Canelo persists as a positive role model and mentor to her coworkers, according to Chief French.

Canelo has taken on a wide variety of responsiblilities in the Communications Center over the years, serving to train officers, as a tactical dispatcher, as a crisis negotiator and as an acting supervisor. Last year alone, she worked over 500 training hours, 600 acting supervisor hours and over 600 hours of overtime to fill staff vacancies.

Laura Canelo

“She consistently works at a stellar level and she sets the standard in her hard and dedication,” Chief French said. 

Canelo may be eager to support her colleagues and Richmond citizens at their time of need, but she’s less than eager to receive praise for her efforts. 

“Anybody who knows me knows I don’t like the spotlight,” Canelo said, quickly concluding with, “It is truly an honor and a pleasure. All I can say is thank you.”

Richmond Firefighters Local 188’s ‘Citizen of the Year’ Ivonne Malave

Ivonne Malave was described as “deeply committed to improving and supporting the betterment of our community” by members of Richmond Firefighters Local 188, the union representing Richmond firefighters.

“Ivonne is one of those people who truly understands that one little thing you say to somebody, can change their life,” said Fire Capt. Marcus Faumui. He added, “I can’t believe the amount of work she does in this community, the amount she gives, especially to our youth.”

Ivonne Malave (Photo courtesy of Richmond Firefighters Local 188)

Malave was commended for her efforts supporting local programs and organizations including Youth Services Bureau, Rosie’s Service Corp., Guardians of Justice, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, and, more recently, the Richmond Police Activities League. She’s also an active volunteer for the Richmond Fire and Police Holiday Toy Program.

Malave’s response to the commendations?

“I can’t sit around and just gather dust,” she quipped, adding, “I love the Richmond community, I love collaboration.” She said she wanted to share her award with all those who work together to support community efforts.

“Ivonne has been setting a great example for youth as to what it means to give back,” according to Local 188. “She is a role model, mentor, and advocate for those who just need a little support.”

Police Professional Staff Member of the Year

In the modern world, police rely upon technology to keep the public safe. Supporting in that effort is IT Supervisor Eric Tam, who pulls long hours to ensure all systems are working propertly.

For this reason and more, Tam was named Police Professioal Staff Member of the Year for 2022.

“Last year, he continually identified and anticipated future technology needs while improving efficiency of our current systems,” said Chief French. “He regularly worked behind the scenes to procure products and services for the department, and because of his strong interpersonal skills, he often negotiated cheaper prices for us.”

Even when Tam is off duty, he works to ensure systems are properly functioning.

“He remains calm and cordial when working to find solutions,” Chief French said, adding that he is also an effective manger of people and projects. 

Teamwork Award: Communications Team

Not just Canello, but the whole Communications Team deserves recognition for 2022.

“A lot of times the focus of the police and fire departments are on police officers and firefighters, but I guarantee that we cannot efficiently do our job without our support staff, and most specifically our dispatcher,” Chief French said.

They’ve got the tough task of fielding calls from panicked people under stress or duress. They must meanwhile take swift action to get information out to police and fire that could result in saving a life.

Communications Team

The Richmond Communications Team is unique from others in the county that only service calls for police.

“They not only dispatch for RPD, they dispatch for El Cerrito PD, the Richmond Fire Department and they do emergency medical dispatching, meaning they can give direction to people over the phone on how to do CPR or other life saving measure, and even how to deliver a baby,” Chief French said.

It has been oft-reported that the Communications Center has been understaffed for years. Last year was no exception, when the department might have been the most understaffed in decades, said Chief French.

“The dispatchers worked the entire year at 50 percent or below staffing,” the chief said. “Even so, they fielded an astounding 233,228 calls. Nearly 85,000 of those calls were on the 911 system, and despite an incredible call volume, they worked tirelessly and selflessly to make sure our community could rely on timely emergency services.”