URBANA – The University of Illinois Police Department is congratulating Detective Rachael Ahart on her selection by her peers and supervisors as the 2017 Ralph F. Hamlin Officer of the Year.
The award was presented among other UIPD awards at a Friday evening ceremony to recognize the good work of UIPD staff throughout the past year. A number of officers and civilian employees were recognized for positive contributions to the community and the department.
The full list of citations, including Det. Ahart’s, is below.
Ralph F. Hamlin Officer of the Year Award
Detective Rachael Ahart
Detective Rachael Ahart is a team player willing to assist wherever she can. Since she started with UIPD in 2011, Detective Ahart has worked as a CIT officer, R.A.D. instructor, Special Victims Unit member and trainer and a detective.
Det. Ahart works with the Women’s Resource Center, RACES, Courage Connection, Children’s Advocacy Center, advocates from the State’s Attorney’s Office and Dean of Students. Each of these groups holds her in high regard and regularly reaches out to her for information and help with a multitude of issues.
Det. Ahart continues to work on sexual assault cases for UIPD, CPD and now UPD. Her work speaks for itself that UPD requested that she assist with their reports too. To date, Det. Ahart has worked nine CPD, one UPD, and eight UIPD sex crime cases. She has also investigated several credit card fraud, theft, battery and robbery cases in the past year.
In December 2016, Det. Ahart testified in federal court on a kidnapping case she investigated in 2015. The U.S. Attorney called her the “closer,” referring to the importance of her testimony to close the door on the defense case. In April 2017, the suspect was found guilty and recently sentenced to 26 months in federal prison for international parental kidnapping.
In March of 2016, Det. Ahart was involved in the infamous case involving a U. of I. student who concealed the death of her newborn child. As part of the team effort involving many officers, she interviewed the suspect and her parents, and she compared the suspect’s computer and phone records to the suspect’s actions and statements. Det. Ahart’s investigation produced incriminating evidence, and the offender was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Obviously, Det. Ahart’s position as a detective takes her away from primary patrol duties, but she still stays up to date on the laws and duties that go along with it. She has assisted in numerous search warrant executions and on-scene arrests.
Det. Ahart has worked with a number of agencies on various cases throughout the year. She has worked with the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, Secret Service and all of our local agencies.
Detective Ahart’s willingness to jump in wherever she can is evident, but also evident is the high quality of her work. Through her passion, work ethic, moral integrity and willingness to help others, Detective Ahart embodies the mission and values of the University of Illinois Police Department and is a leader in making our community safer for everyone.
Life Saving Award
Peter Milinkovic & Michael Unander
On December 19, 2016, Officers Peter Milinkovic and Mike Unander acted without hesitation to remove a suicidal person who had fallen through thin ice at Crystal Lake Park. The wind chill temperature at the time was around 0 degrees, and the conditions near the ice were very slippery. The man was unconscious by the time officers pulled him from the freezing water. Officers carried him to a waiting ambulance, and he survived. The officers maintained a calm demeanor in extreme conditions, and their sound judgment and decisiveness saved a life.
On July 18, 2016, Officer Brian Tison was dispatched to an Orchard Downs apartment to help a five-month-old child who was not breathing. Officer Tison began CPR on the infant until medical personnel could arrive. The child regained his pulse and survived for several more days on assisted ventilation at the hospital, but eventually was taken off life support. Responding to a call for an unresponsive child is among the most difficult a police officer may experience. Officer Tison’s performance under the most difficult of conditions represents the highest ideals of the police profession.
Early in the morning on March 1, 2017, Security Guard Riccardo Bell located a student in emotional distress on the top level of the C-7 parking garage. He engaged the distraught student in conversation while calling for police to respond, and learned the student was struggling with depression and overwhelmed with classes. Officers were able to get the student to a hospital to receive mental health care. The student later admitted that he was contemplating suicide that night. Security Officer Bell’s willingness to act without hesitation not only may have saved a life, but also helped get crucial care to the student during a time of need.
On July 12, 2016, the family of a sexual abuse victim walked into the University of Illinois Police Department to report the crime, but they knew very little information about the incident other than the offender’s first name and email address. After calling for an officer to respond, Telecommunicator Dan Leake gathered as much information as possible and began working to identify the offender, the offender’s address, and vehicle information. TC Leake’s quick work helped officers tremendously, and his ability to identify vehicles and suspects is invaluable to the safety of the community.
Following a hit and run accident on March 25, 2017, Telecommunicator Dan Leake worked tirelessly to identify the suspect vehicle which fled following the collision. Initially, a license plate number provided by a witness included a small mistake and led police to a vehicle which was not involved in the accident. Instead of giving up, TC Leake worked diligently to review video footage and identify the make and model of the suspect vehicle. He then scoured the ARMS database to find the correct license plate for the vehicle and even canvassed Facebook to identify the offender. TC Leake’s willingness to assist officers and his ability to identify vehicles and suspects continues to be invaluable to the safety of the community.
On June 14, 2016, Housing Security Officer Mike Johnson called in information about a young woman who was walking along the ledge of the top level of a parking garage in the 1200 block of West University Avenue. He continued to radio in updates until officers arrived in time to help the woman. Security Officer Johnson’s observations likely saved a life, and his quick actions are crucial in a campus environment where mental health crises are a growing concern.
Telecommunicator Kristy Mecum this past year has taken great initiative to rewrite the telecommunicator manual which had not received a comprehensive update in 15 years. TC Mecum went page by page to make it more thorough and to include the TC’s newer functions. Along with the manual rewrite, she created a trainer book to assist with onboarding new employees, and she digitized the manuals so they can be retrieved and revised more easily. This was a monumental project that will enhance the efficiency of the TC room.
On May 20, 2017, Officer Chris Elston was called to assist the Urbana Police Department in an ongoing hostage situation. Officer Elston deployed his rifle and took up a position on the perimeter which allowed him to relay valuable information to METRO operators. On several occasions, the suspect presented himself in full view to Officer Elston, obligating him to make critical use of force decisions. Because of his efforts and the information he provided, the situation was resolved without injury to hostages, officers, innocent bystanders or the suspect.
On December 21, 2016, Officer Taylor Franzen stopped a vehicle after noticing its suspicious driving behavior. After the driver consented to a search, Officer Franzen found a loaded revolver in his coat pocket. The suspect eventually admitted that he was working for another person who told him to retrieve money from a third party at a gas station. Officer Franzen’s intuition and observant police work helped remove a deadly weapon and a potentially violent offender from our community.
Ryan Snow, Michelle Kaeding, Michelle Schroeder
On September 18, 2016, Officers Ryan Snow, Michelle Kaeding and Michelle Schroeder were patrolling the area of Third and Green streets, knowing that the area had been the center of recent criminal activity. Following a large fight in a parking lot, two juvenile subjects were seen checking an area where officers ultimately discovered a stolen handgun. The officers’ eye for suspicious activity was crucial to the recovery of the firearm. Given the nature of problems at this location, it is extremely likely that the officers’ work prevented this gun from being used in ongoing criminal activity in the area.
James Scheel & Michelle Schroeder
On August 2, 2016, Officers James Scheel and Michelle Schroeder saw smoke and flames coming from behind a business on East Springfield Avenue. After calling for fire units to respond, the officers discovered another fire a short distance away. As Officer Scheel went to investigate the second fire, Officer Schroeder observed a suspect who quickly hid when he saw police and fire. After searching the suspect, the officers found multiple items of evidence which connected him to the two fires.
The officers’ attentiveness and their keen eye for detail undoubtedly prevented further damage to property and possible injury or loss of life.
Gene Moore, Ryan Lepp, Eric Helms, Michelle Schroeder, Grant Briggs, Elma Halpin, Alex Tran, Rob Benoit
On April 19, 2017, officers responded to an extraordinarily troubling incident for everyone involved, when a called was dispatched for a fire on the roof of the Krannert Center for Performing Arts with possible victims. Officers Elma Halpin and Alex Tran were the first on scene and observed a single victim who had apparently committed suicide by lighting himself on fire. Sgt. Rob Benoit followed closely behind to extinguish the flames.
Police work presents many incredible challenges, and upsetting nature of this incident was certainly one of them. But when officers are exposed to tragic or upsetting events, they must still complete their work professional, efficiently and compassionately. All of these officers played a crucial role in securing the scene, collecting evidence, and in the follow-up investigation. Many people might not be able to carry on in the face of this kind of tragedy, but these officers carried out their duties admirably and with the utmost respect for the victim and his loved ones.
Darren Lewis, Elma Halpin, Rachel Ahart
On August 23, 2016, Officer Darren Lewis responded to a check welfare call at Oglesby Hall, but the young woman who needed help was not there. Officer Lewis did not give up – he called the student’s cellphone, and she asked to meet him at her apartment. The student went on to tell Officer Lewis about a pattern of severe abuse spanning several months which she had been experiencing at the hands of her boyfriend, including physical abuse, the theft of her bank cards, and animal torture involving the victim’s dog. Officer Elma Halpin and Officer Lewis traveled to the boyfriend’s home, interviewed him and arrested him that night. Following the arrest, Detective Rachael Ahart spearheaded an intense investigation into the severe abuse. Thanks to the diligent, detailed work of everyone involved – and a refusal to clear the call when the victim could not be initially located – the officers helped end a pattern of abuse, and the boyfriend is awaiting trial for two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, six counts of criminal sexual assault, animal torture, and theft.
In her own words, the victim credits Officer Lewis with saving her life. She said, “Thank you on my behalf. It was his question that saved my life because I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk to the police.” The victim explained that, in her home country, she would be blamed as a woman for any abuse she received. She added that, had Officer Lewis not approached her, made her feel at ease and asked her specific and straightforward questions about being hurt, she would not have reported it.
On April 10, 2016, Student Patrol Officers located a possible suspect in an armed robbery which had occurred just minutes prior, and radioed in that information. As Officer James Scheel approached the suspect, the suspect immediately began running. Officer Scheel caught up to the suspect and gave him orders at gunpoint. The suspect ran again. Eventually, he was caught by perimeter units, who found the handgun used in the robbery and a cellphone taken from the victim. Because of Officer Scheel’s courageous action to pursue a suspect whom he knew may be armed – and made possible only with the Student Patrol Officers’ attentiveness – a violent offender was removed from the campus area and further armed robberies were prevented.
Chris Elston & Ryan Snow
On September 25, 2016, Officers Chris Elston and Ryan Snow were the first on the scene of a shooting which they would quickly learn was a tragedy in the making. Among the initial chaos, officers Elston and Snow found a college-aged man with a life-threatening gunshot wound to his chest. Both officers rendered medical aid to the victim until medical personnel arrived, and Officer Snow initiated chest compressions in the back of the ambulance until reaching the hospital. The officers’ unwavering ability work quickly to care for the critically-injured victim was clear, and their ability to maintain composure in one of the most extreme situations brings great credit upon the entire University of Illinois Police Department.
Chris Elston & Grant Briggs
On September 6, 2016, Officers Chris Elston and Grant Briggs were called to the Presence Covenant Medical Center emergency room to assist with a distraught woman who had stabbed herself multiple times in the abdomen and was refusing to drop the knife. The situation was extremely dangerous both for the injured woman and those trying to talk her down. Officer Elston deployed his Taser, and Officer Briggs took control of the woman and placed her in handcuffs. The officers’ decisive action not only protected innocent bystanders, but also enabled medical staff to give care to the woman.
Taylor Franzen & Mike Unander
On October 16, 2016, Officers Taylor Franzen and Mike Unander were riding together when they observed a vehicle speeding and blowing stop signs on Healey Street. As the officers conducted the traffic stop, Champaign Police officers were dispatched to a home invasion which had just occurred several blocks away where a victim had reported being hit over the head with a gun. After confirming that the two occupants of the stopped vehicle matched the description of the home invasion suspects, the officers conducted a felony stop and both suspects were taken into custody without incident. Inside the vehicle, officers found a replica .44 Magnum revolver and a stolen laptop computer. The officers’ professional work, in cooperation with our neighboring agency, was critical in removing two violent offenders from the campus area.
On October 31, 2016, Officer Taylor Franzen heard Champaign Police officers being dispatched to a robbery which had just occurred near Sixth and Stoughton streets. Officer Franzen located five young men matching the suspect descriptions, and she detained all five until other officers could arrive. During a search, officers found a BB gun which very closely resembled a handgun, a pair of brass knuckles and the victim’s stolen phone. Officer Franzen’s initiative and willingness to act without hesitation led to the recovery of the stolen property and likely prevented further acts of violence in our community.
On October 3, 2016, Justin Jones was in his room at Weston Hall when his roommate began to display some unusual behavior and eventually became unresponsive. Justin’s recognized the seriousness of the situation and his lifeguard training kicked into action. Justin began CPR and notified his RA, who called 911. Medical personnel arrived and administered Narcan to Justin’s roommate, who quickly regained consciousness. Justin’s recognition of the situation and his quick actions undoubtedly saved his roommate’s life.
Elizabeth Evans & Kim Hardin
Elizabeth Evans and Kim Hardin were going about their day at the Carle Sports Medicine Office at the Activities and Recreation Center when they were drawn to a commotion on one of the basketball courts. Their instincts kicked in when they learned a man was having a heart attack. Elizabeth and Kim found the nearest defibrillator and administered it to the unresponsive man. Their training and quick actions saved his life, but the outcome may have been very different without their fast thinking and teamwork.
Excellence in Community Policing
Increasingly, police are the first to receive the call when someone is in mental health crisis, and Officer Shawn Johnson has been an unsung hero of sorts when it comes to networking. Last year, Officer Johnson went through the Crisis Intervention Team course and hit the ground running by developing a deep relationship with Rosecrance and introducing other officers to key resources when they have issues on mental health-related calls. On one call in particular, Officer Johnson called a Rosecrance counselor he previously befriended, and the counselor came to the location of the call to help a young man who was struggling with anxiety and depression. The incident speaks to Officer Johnson’s great compassion, professionalism and his ability to enlist partners and resources to enhance the safety of the entire community.
Team Excellence in Community Policing
Darren Lewis, Chuck Hoskins, AJ Martin, Riccardo Bell & Darrell Pierson
At the beginning of the spring semester in 2017, Officers Darren Lewis, Chuck Hoskins and A.J. Martin and Security Officers Riccardo Bell and Darrel Pierson took action to curb an increasing number of thefts at campus recreation facilities. Theft is among the most common crimes on college campuses, and it is one that can present a great inconvenience to the hundreds or thousands of people affected every year. These officers worked as a team to identify illegitimate entry points where individuals with ill intentions were gaining access. They also trained Campus Recreation staff to do a better job of screening entrants. These officers worked together to identify a problem and implement solutions. This kind of teamwork enhances the quality of life for everyone in our community.
Civilian Employee of the Year
In just two years with the University of Illinois Police Department, Kyle has proven to be an incredibly proactive telecommunicator. He has an ear for the radio which helps not only UIPD, but also Urbana Police, Champaign Police, security guards and Student Patrol. As soon as officers are dispatched to a call, Kyle begins looking into resources that may make their jobs easier. When an officer makes a traffic stop, Kyle brings up cameras to keep an eye out for the officer’s safety. His work ethic and time management are both impeccable. He has stepped up to take on multiple projects – and along with working full-time, he was also a full-time student at the U. of I., graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree.
Kyle goes above and beyond in his day-to-day duties to make sure our officers have the information they need without having to ask, and the resources they need to stay safe. He does this with great enthusiasm and professionalism, and he is an ideal representative of the University of Illinois Police Department.
Director of Public Safety Recognition Award
Laura Tison, Doug Beckman, AJ Martin, Michael Unander, John Brown, Jason Bradley, Eric Stiverson, Rachael Ahart, Jerry Sandage, Gene Moore, Tom Geis, Taylor Franzen, Steve Ziegler, Dan Clifton
Like mentioned before, responding to a call involving an unresponsive child is among the most difficult calls a public safety official will ever get, but that responsibility is made even more difficult when you are presented with an incident as tragic as this one. Many of us are familiar with the case of a U. of I. student who tried to conceal the death of her infant child. The story made national news because of its horrific nature and the sickening feeling you get when you hear about it. But even then, it’s a lot easier to read about what happened than it is to be on the front lines. These officers and assistant state’s attorneys experienced this incident firsthand, and they were called upon to carry out the law with impartiality. From the initial response, to the investigation, to the court hearings, this case was wrought with tragedy, but everyone involved carried out their duties with extreme professionalism, compassion and diligence. Their work on this case is a credit to the high quality of law enforcement on campus and in Champaign County, as well as the commitment to doing the right thing which permeates the University of Illinois Police Department and the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office. This was a true team effort, and everyone involved deserves the gratitude of our campus and our entire community.