Public Safety Department honors bravery, service

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published May 31, 2015

 Left: John Vorgitch  Right: James Ruthenberg

Left: John Vorgitch Right: James Ruthenberg

HARPER WOODS — The Public Safety Department’s annual report includes a wealth of information about the operations of the department, as well as a section that highlights the work of officers and civilians.

Officers were honored with accolades including Officer of the Year, the Medal of Valor and a Life Saving Award.

“We just have an outstanding Public Safety Department,” Mayor Ken Poynter said. “It’s just fantastic the job they do. I’m really proud, and I know the council’s real proud of our police force and our Public Safety Department.”

Public Safety Director James Burke said that the officers do excellent work on a daily basis.

“Officers that go above and beyond the already exceptional job that they do every day is what these awards are for,” Burke said, praising both the police and the firefighters. “I’m really proud of both of them.”

The biggest award handed out each year is the Officer of the Year Award. This year’s report includes the officers of the year for both 2013 and 2014.

Due to cuts and reorganization, the department wasn’t able to name a 2013 Officer of the Year last year, so the department this year named both the 2013 and 2014 recipients of the honor, Burke said.

The Police Officer of the Year for 2013 is Lt. John Vorgitch, who was a sergeant at that time.

“All of our command officers do an extraordinary job,” Burke said. “Sgt. Vorgitch really distinguished himself.”

He was given the duty of starting the department’s first part-time officer program.

“Due to his work ethic, dedication and commitment, the part-time officer program has been a huge success,” the award description states.

The Police Officer of the Year for 2014 is officer James Ruthenberg, who serves in the department’s detective bureau.

“He just does an outstanding job,” Burke said.

Burke praised the department’s detective bureau and the caseload that the officers handle, which rivals much larger departments.

“When we’re trying to solve our own crimes, we end up solving the crimes of other communities, (as well),” he said.

Burke called Ruthenberg “just a truly outstanding young man (who) has a great future in our department.”

“He’s instrumental in keeping the detective bureau running,” he said.

The names of both officers are included on a plaque with the names of all recipients of the award.

The Medal of Valor was given to Sgt. Thomas Lada and Fire Lt. Kevan Kochan for their work to save a disabled woman who was trapped in a smoke-filled apartment during a fire in December.

“They did an outstanding job,” Burke said. 

The Life Saving Award went to officers Kevin Coates and Daniel Schewe.

The duo was responsible for saving the life of a woman who was not breathing in the McDonald’s parking lot in January 2014.

They received a call about a possible heroin overdose. When they arrived, the woman was unresponsive. She wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse.

The officers performed CPR on the woman and she was revived, according to the department.

A department citation was given to Sgt. Christopher Schaft, Sgt. Thomas Lada, officer Steven Mukavec and Detective Aristides Reyes for their work in April 2014 during the investigation of a carjacking.

They were able to recover the vehicle and take a suspect into custody following a foot chase shortly after the incident.

Officer George Sparks also received a department citation for his work in apprehending five suspects involved in an incident of multiple shots fired in the city. Police found two loaded handguns during a search of the vehicle, and the suspects faced multiple felony offenses.

Besides honoring officers, the department also likes to honor residents who step up to help police.

The Citizen Citation Award was given to Christopher Jefferson for his work helping police during a large fight in August 2014.

Jefferson helped officers after suspects began resisting and fighting with officers at the scene.

“Officers on scene were greatly outnumbered by the unruly crowd and requested assistance from neighboring police departments,” the award description states.

Jefferson took control of one of the suspects and assisted with controlling the suspect until help arrived.

While Burke said they do not encourage residents to put themselves in harm’s way to assist the police, they are thankful for Jefferson’s help.

“We have a tremendous working relationship with our community that I’m very grateful for,” he said. “We’re very appreciative of his efforts.”

The annual report also includes statistics on different crimes in the city. The good news is that the city has seen a drop in serious crimes for the last nine years.

“Nine years in a row, with two borders of Detroit, I think is an excellent job,” Burke said. “We’re hopeful that we can continue that trend.”

The department continues to take steps to not only catch criminals, but to deter criminals from the area.

“We’re very data-driven in placing our officers where the hot spots are,” he said. “It really goes back to great police work.”

Despite budget cuts and taking on extra duties, the police have continued the level of service that they’ve provided in the past, he said.

“We’re getting the maximum value out of the people that we have,” Burke said. “I could not be prouder as a police chief.”

The annual report is available on the city’s website.