Why 4 Aurora officers were first to win Medal of Valor honor in 5 years

  • Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman presents Medals of Valor, the highest recognition bestowed by the department, to Special Operations Investigators Colin Griffin, right, and Matthew Huber. They were recognized for their response when they were shot at by a gang member on March 22.

      Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman presents Medals of Valor, the highest recognition bestowed by the department, to Special Operations Investigators Colin Griffin, right, and Matthew Huber. They were recognized for their response when they were shot at by a gang member on March 22. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The Aurora Police Department's highest recognition is the Medal of Valor. The medals recognize officers who demonstrate outstanding acts of bravery and heroism.

      The Aurora Police Department's highest recognition is the Medal of Valor. The medals recognize officers who demonstrate outstanding acts of bravery and heroism. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 

Police officers risk their health just by showing up for their jobs every day. They tear knee ligaments chasing suspects, get bit by people they're arresting, slip on ice at crime scenes and are hit by cars while investigating accidents.

And then there are the cases of extreme risks -- life-threatening risks -- like the ones four Aurora officers took last year that earned them the city's prestigious Medal of Valor.

Chief Kristen Ziman bestowed the medals Wednesday to Ryszard "Rick" Drozdowski, Bradley Vonhoff, Colin Griffin and Matthew Huber for their work in two dangerous situations. It was the first time in more than five years the department has issued the award.

Officers Drozdowski and Vonhoff were honored for helping rescue a 95-year-old woman who drove her vehicle into a retention pond May 4. Investigators Griffin and Huber received their medals for their courageous response while under fire from a gang member on March 22.

During an awards ceremony, Ziman cited Winston Churchill's quote about the value of being prepared for when you're "tapped on the shoulder" to do something special.

"Our APD officers rise to the level of their training. And whether the moment that our officers are 'tapped on the shoulder' is to save the life of someone else or to run toward gunfire, in both instances they put themselves in harm's way to protect our community," Ziman said.

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Aurora Special Operations Investigators Matthew Huber, left, and Colin Griffin were recognized for their response when they were shot at by a gang member March 22. Despite Griffin being shot in the leg, they continued to chase the man, ultimately killing him.
  Aurora Special Operations Investigators Matthew Huber, left, and Colin Griffin were recognized for their response when they were shot at by a gang member March 22. Despite Griffin being shot in the leg, they continued to chase the man, ultimately killing him. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Griffin and Huber, members of the department's Special Operations Group, came under fire while attempting to pull over a car carrying two suspected gang members. Griffin was shot in the right lower leg, but he and Huber continued to pursue the shooter, trading gunfire and eventually killing him.

Drozdowski and Vonhoff were the first Aurora officers on the scene when a Downers Grove woman drove into a pond off Bilter Road. The car sunk in about 8 feet of water.

Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman presents officers Ryszard "Rick" Drozdowski, center, and Bradley Vonhoff, right, Medals of Valor during a ceremony Wednesday. They were honored for diving into a retention pond to help rescue a woman from her submerged car May 4.
  Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman presents officers Ryszard "Rick" Drozdowski, center, and Bradley Vonhoff, right, Medals of Valor during a ceremony Wednesday. They were honored for diving into a retention pond to help rescue a woman from her submerged car May 4. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Drozdowski recalled stripping to just a T-shirt and pants, grabbing a 15-pound pry tool and swimming to the vehicle. As he knelt on the hood of the submerged car with water up to his neck, Vonhoff and an Aurora firefighter were able to pull the woman out. Drozdowski swam her back to shore.

"I did not even think about the temperature of the water. You just went in because we had a job to do to rescue somebody," he said. "I could not even tell you today if it was cold or warm."

Meet the new boss

James Zawlocki, second from left, was sworn in Monday as Prospect Heights' new police chief. Also sworn in were Deputy Chief Mark Porlier, far left, and Sgt. Jesus Duron, far right. With them are City Clerk Wendy Morgan-Adams and Mayor Nick Helmer.
James Zawlocki, second from left, was sworn in Monday as Prospect Heights' new police chief. Also sworn in were Deputy Chief Mark Porlier, far left, and Sgt. Jesus Duron, far right. With them are City Clerk Wendy Morgan-Adams and Mayor Nick Helmer. - Courtesy of Prospect Heights

James Zawlocki was among the first batch of Prospect Heights police officers when the city created its force in 1990. Now, he's running the show.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Zawlocki was sworn in Monday as the city's new police chief, the culmination of a more than three-decade law enforcement career in which he's served the department in almost every capacity.

The winner of the department's Officer of the Year in 2015 and previously its deputy chief, Zawlocki has been a patrol officer, sergeant, certified traffic accident investigator and supervisor of the Northwest Suburban Major Case Assistance Team's surveillance unit.

He replaces former Chief Al Steffen, another original member, who stepped down last month and took a deputy chief post in neighboring Wheeling.

Also sworn in Monday were new Deputy Chief Mark Porlier, a 25-year department veteran, and Sgt. Jesus Duron, who's been with the force since 2008.

Awards season

The Golden Globes are behind us and the Oscars are still a month away, but in the meantime, there are some movies produced closer to home vying for honors.

Arlington Heights police this week released the four finalists for its inaugural Speed Awareness Video Education (SAVE) Challenge, a contest of public service announcement videos created by local high school students to highlight the dangers of driving too fast.

"We are excited by the creativity of the participating students and we hope the important message on the dangers of speeding makes a profound impact on everyone," police said.

The four videos, ranging from 1 to 2 minutes long each, include:

Buffalo Grove High School's entry features a voice-over of a student describing a day in which "everything was perfect" as she rode her bike through a residential neighborhood, until she was hit and killed by a speeding driver.

Hersey High School's PSA features a student posing as a "speed addict" who lists all the benefits of going fast -- including "getting all those old grandpas off the street." But those pedal-to-the-metal ways lead to some unpleasant consequences.

The Academy at Forest View's entry features an increasingly frustrated teacher trying to hammer home a safe-driving message to a group of bored and disinterested students.

Wheeling High School's video features a student running late and speeding to try to be on time -- with disastrous results.

You can watch the videos at vah.com under the "Trending" section and vote for your favorite at www.surveymonkey.com/r/KTN2WT5.

Best in class

Buffalo Grove officer Ashley Krozel receives the Lake County Juvenile Officers Association's Law Enforcement Award from association President Vincent Ramirez.
Buffalo Grove officer Ashley Krozel receives the Lake County Juvenile Officers Association's Law Enforcement Award from association President Vincent Ramirez. - Courtesy of Buffalo Grove

Congrats to Buffalo Grove school resource officer Ashley Krozel, who last week received the Law Enforcement Award from the Lake County Juvenile Officers Association for her work in the community.

Krozel has been a school resource officer for seven years, serving at schools in both Kildeer-Countryside District 96 and Aptakisic-Tripp District 102. She's been a mentor and resource for students, parents and the school staff, and taught courses on internet safety, bullying and drug and alcohol resistance.

Police Chief Steve Casstevens took to Twitter last week to laud Krozel for the recognition.

"The best!" he wrote.

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