LAPD awards officers for bravery and for using restraint during police encounters

Greg Monroe, father of LAPD Officer Heather Monroe, accepts a Preservation of Life award from Chief Charlie Beck. Officer Monroe was killed in a car accident when she was off duty. Her partner, Officer Joel Trask, is on the right.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The man with the knife turned toward the two police officers, shouting “Kill me. Kill me. You’re going to have to kill me.”

He could have charged at them or thrown the knife. But they were trying to save his life while also saving their own and did not fire their guns.

After running across a busy San Fernando Valley street and attempting to scale a wall, the man crossed the street again. Officer Heather Monroe shot him with a Taser and he dropped the knife.


At a ceremony Thursday, Monroe and three other officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were honored for handcuffing the man without seriously injuring him during the Jan. 7, 2016, encounter.

They were among 27 officers who received awards for bravery, restraint or being wounded in the line of duty.

Monroe’s father, Greg, accepted her Preservation of Life award. She died in an off-duty car accident on New Year’s Day at age 30.

Her partner, Officer Joel Trask, said the two immediately clicked when they first paired up. Their five-year partnership was unusually long by LAPD standards. Facing the man with the knife, their ability to read each other and communicate intuitively allowed their strategy to evolve seamlessly, with barely a word spoken, Trask said.

Foremost in his mind, Trask said, was saving the man’s life.

“He was having some type of bad day,” Trask said. “It isn’t the first time or the last time that people are in bad straits. At the same time, you can only do that so far, then officers have to shoot.”

This is the second year the LAPD has awarded officers for restraint. The department has placed an emphasis on tactics that defuse confrontations while keeping officers and bystanders safe.

The awards were initially controversial, with the union representing rank-and-file officers blasting them as a “terrible idea” that prioritized “the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of LAPD officers.”

But on Thursday, the recipients were applauded enthusiastically by the crowd of police officers and city officials gathered at a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

Addressing the crowd, Chief Charlie Beck said every one of the department’s nearly 10,000 sworn officers is prepared to be a hero every day.

“Sometimes, after these sometimes heroic and challenging moments, when they finished their shift, they got in the locker room, took off that uniform, closed that locker and prepared to do it again the next day,” he said.

Others honored with Preservation of Life awards included Officers Erik Helmstetter and Daisy Vanegas. On July 14, 2016, they confronted a man who had taken a 4-year-old boy hostage on a Hollywood street.

The man was strangling the boy from behind with such force that the boy’s eyes rolled back and his face turned pale.

Helmstetter said he considered firing his weapon but did not want to risk hitting the boy. The officers instead tackled the man. Helmstetter struck him in the face with a fist, and he let go of the boy.

Helmstetter, who brought his 13-month-old daughter to the ceremony, said he worried about becoming emotional on the stage.

“I can still hear the boy screaming,” he said.

The Medals of Valor recognize officers for bravery in the face of extreme danger.

Officer Oscar Cordoba was one of four police officers who came to the aid of a woman whose estranged husband had just shot her in the head.

The man ignored the officers’ orders to drop his gun, firing a shot through the window of the house, before turning and pointing his gun at them. The officers fatally shot him.

Sgt. Joseph Morrison, another Medal of Valor recipient, ran into a burning apartment to save a woman. A man inside had threatened to kill her, then set the apartment on fire.

Morrison was crawling on the floor to avoid smoke and flames when he encountered the man, who said, “We are all going to die. I want us to die.” Morrison dragged the man out while other officers pulled the woman through a window.

For injuries he suffered in the fire, Morrison also received a Purple Heart.

For more news on the Los Angeles Police Department, follow me on Twitter: @cindychangLA


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