Chicago Officers Earn Safer Way Award

Tactical Team of Four Conducts
High-Risk Traffic Stop and Prevents Chase

The officers' nomination was based on several elements. The most important action taken was the decision by officers Larry Brezinski and Tomasz Zatora, in an unmarked unit, not to attempt an apprehension while on the expressway. An attempt to apprehend three armed subjects in a vehicle who just committed a violent felony offense has a strong probability of a high-speed pursuit.

We believe the officers prevented a pursuit and kept the public and themselves safe with their actions. The officers' communications after locating and then following the suspect vehicle to a tactical location and the wisdom to wait for support from officers Ronni Kane and Alex Zayas to conduct a high-risk traffic stop indicates the professionalism of the officers. Every decision made was motivated by safety; from their clear communications, the stop location, and the procedure used to successfully apprehend the armed suspects. To read about their strategy, click here.

2015 Safer Way Award winner after award presentation
At the IACP 122nd Conference and Exposition (from left) PursuitSAFETY's advisory board member and Safer Way Award administrator, Ret. Chief Rich Schardan; Chicago Commander George Devereux, Sgt. Tim Bridges, Officers Larry Brezinski, Tomasz Zatora, Ronni Kane, and Alex Zayas; PursuitSAFETY founder Candy Priano; and Chicago Police Capt. Paul Bauer. These Chicago officers represent District 18.
Law Enforcement's Finest

Chicago Police Sgt. Tim Bridges wrote to thank everyone involved in PursuitSAFETY's Safer Way Award program for the work we do to help reduce deaths and injuries as a result of police pursuits.

The sergeant's letter will be placed among the organization's keepsakes. Sgt. Bridges noted that he and the officers were grateful for "the kindness that you showed to all of us with the beautiful lunch that we shared together and the wonderful ceremony, hosted in Chicago, that made the award very special to us. We will cherish the memory of your visit."

Esther Seoanes, Chief Rich Schardan, and Candy Priano felt the same as one can see by these pictures below. Esther and Candy barely opened their gift bags from the officers before they had the CPD caps on their heads. "We were all blessed that day," Candy said.

Spending time with Chicago police officers who protect and serve.

Press Release: August 24, 2015

Chicago's Tactical Team
Earns PursuitSAFETY Award

CHICAGO—A Chicago police sergeant recalls how his officers were "proactive" and "vigilant" when responding to the "flash messages" they received about a fatal shooting that occurred in November 2014.

Flash Message DefinitionThe subsequent arrest of three armed offenders conducted by four Chicago police officers, a tactical team involved in gang violence reduction, stood out among the submissions for the 2015 PursuitSAFETY Safer Way Award.

PursuitSAFETY, a national nonprofit organization working to reduce the number of vehicular police pursuits, will present its annual award to officers Larry Brezinski, Ronni Kane, Tomasz Zatora, and Alex Zayas of the Chicago Police Department, District 18. The officers will receive their individual awards during the Highway Safety Awards ceremony at the 122nd Annual Conference and Exposition of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago in October.

Conservative estimates based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data count one American per day dying as a result of a police pursuit. At least one-third of those killed are innocent bystanders. On average, pursuit crashes kill one officer every six to eight weeks.

The Safer Way
Sergeant Tim Bridges stated that a driving force behind the safe arrest of these armed suspects was that "the officers covertly positioned themselves to intercept the offenders' vehicle at the most likely route of escape." Bridges added that the situation ended safely because of the officers' training, dedication to duty, and keen alertness.

On the night of November 16, 2014, a call came through stating that shots had been fired. Next, a flash alert announced the description of the vehicle in which the alleged suspects escaped. Zatora and Brezinski, who were in an unmarked car, decided to head to a nearby highway entrance reasoning that the assailants would use the highway to make their escape. The officers were right and observed a car matching the description drive onto the freeway. They immediately called for backup and followed the suspects without activating their lights and siren.

Kane and Zayas in their marked cruiser answered the call for assistance where — together with Zatora and Brezinski — they curbed the suspects and completed the high-risk felony traffic stop. Both sets of partners assembled themselves into a high-risk traffic stop position, which was the safest choice, knowing that the suspects were armed. With the officers in commanding positions, the suspects complied with the officers' orders.

"They followed protocol to the letter," Bridges said. "Every decision that they made was motivated by safety; from their clear communications over the radio and with each other to the way that they positioned their vehicles during the stop."

The vehicles were staggered behind one another, providing clear lines of fire for the officers and a limited field of vision for the suspects. Once the officers got out of their vehicles, they stood behind their doors, using them as shields, and then approached, shining bright flashlights into the suspects' faces.

"The felony stop was conducted perfectly," explained Kane, an 11-year veteran, who pursued her law enforcement career to help and serve others after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. "We set up right next to them but slightly behind. All four officers were out of the cars and positioned for maximum protection. We could jump back in the vehicles if it came to that. Thankfully, the suspects complied with all the verbal commands, and we took them into custody without any problems."

When recounting the experience, Brezinski recalled several moments that felt like "forever," such as waiting to spot the vehicle at the freeway entrance and planning our approach to the vehicle that had dark tinted windows. "If my partner and I had walked up to the vehicle by ourselves, without the backup, I think that we would have been shot. The suspect in the backseat had two guns ready to go, and we initially did not know he was there," Brezinski said.

Zatora focused on the team's strategy to avoid pursuits whenever possible, stating how they have successfully apprehended other violent offenders who are now serving time in prison for their crimes. "Our strategy is to follow offenders in an unmarked car after we receive confirmation that we have identified the right vehicle. We wait for them to park and then make the arrest," he said.

Team Effort
After the arrest was complete, Zatora and Brezinski visited a church to say a quick prayer of thanks for the safety of all involved and for the job that they were able to do. "We have a great team because of the leadership of Sergeant Bridges and Lieutenant David Case, and we are excited to share this moment with them," Zayas added.

All four officers will be in attendance to accept their 2015 Safer Way Award. "We usually don't get pats on the back, so this is great. We're excited about it," said Brezinski.

Retired Maryville, Illinois, Chief Richard Schardan, Sr., who administers the Safer Way Award program, commented, "The Chicago officers used their individual judgment. I believe the message is that officers can make excellent decisions in putting public safety first and still make a violent felony arrest. The decisions of the involved officers were more important than technology and policy."

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About the author: Rhett Dunlap is a freelance writer. He conducted phone interviews with Officers Zatora, Brezinski, Kane, and Zayas. Contact him at rhettbdunlap@gmail.com.

Candy Priano, the founder of PursuitSAFETY, contributed to this article.