Law and Order Night Honors the Best: Brings Tears

Photos: RICHARD LOMBARI

Los Angeles Police Officer Darrell Cunningham was killed last November. His award was accepted by his finance and a son.

Described as one of the best officers assigned to the division, Officer II Darrell Cunningham, was described as very humble, hard working and “if something needed to be done, he was your guy.”

While off-duty, Cunningham and another person riding with him were killed last November, when a 20-year-old man, driving at more than 100 miles per hour, failed to stop at a red light and struck Cunningham’s car when he was off duty.

At the time Sergeant Scott Alpert from WLAPD wrote: “The loss of Officer Darrell Cunningham is deeply felt within our Division, the Department, and among his family. Darrell embodied the qualities LAPD values in an officer—hardworking, consistently professional, and remarkably humble. He was not only a dedicated officer but also an outstanding father. Unfortunately, his kids and fiancée are now without him, as his life was tragically cut short.”

At the Law and Order ceremony, held at the Ronald Reagan American Legion Post 283, on April 22. WLAPD officials said, “He led by example, and it is our honor to give this posthumous award to Officer Darrell Cunningham as Police Officer of the Year 2024.”

Cunningham’s fiancée and one of his young sons accepted the award. His fiancée was invited to speak, but was overcome with emotion.

The Law-and-Order program is held annually by the American Legion. As emcee, Scott Wagenseller explained the Legion was founded 1919 in France, after World War I. Its vision was not only to support vets, but also to support youth, Americanism and national security.

“We recognize those who are still on the front line,” Wagenseller said. The program addresses one of the Legion’s pillars, National Security. “That’s why we’re here tonight.” Different American Legions recognize local heroes through this program.

“We’re here to recognize those who have distinguished themselves, and those who have served above and beyond,” Wagenseller said.

Firefighter Michael Thompson, from Fire Station 69, was recognized as firefighter of the year. Station 69 Captain Thomas Kitahata explained that Thompson was chosen because of his 29 years of service, 24 with LAFD and five years with the U.S. Forest service as a “hotshot.”

Hotshots are elite firefighters trained to field wildland fires.

“His experience goes a long way,” Kitahata said, noting that any wildfires in the Palisades, Thompson is the first person they go to for expertise. “He’s also certified as a logistics coordinator,” the captain said, and noted that Thompson volunteers with widows and orphans [Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firefighter’s Fund] and at a local school. “He is humble and didn’t want this award.”

“I’m surprised, honored and I appreciate it,” Thompson said, and added, “I’m happy and proud to serve the Palisades community.”

Michael Thompson was firefighter of the year at Station 69. (Left to right) Kevin Niles, Captain Thomas Kitahata, Thompson and Scott Wagenseller.

Captain Craig Heredia, who was the commanding officer of the West Los Angeles Police Department and is now assigned as commander to the Hollywood Division, made the presentation to Adrian Perez, who was the Hollywood Police Officer of the Year.

“Perez was hired as a 20-year-old and was recently selected to the gang division,” Heredia said. Gang and Narcotics Division’s enforcement efforts focus on street-level enforcement strategies to affect a reduction in Part I crimes.

Heredia said that there’s been an 11% reduction in violent crimes, and “Nearly 46% of the guns taken off the street have been through this division.”

Perez has recovered 29 handguns and was praised for his pro-active work.

Capt. Craig Heredia (second from right) praised Hollywood’s officer of the year Adrian Perez (center).

Santa Monica Fire Chief Matt Hallock announced that Captain Eric Nagao, had been selected as Firefighter of the year. “I hope to have one hundred more Erics in the company, “Hallock said. “His commitment to duty, his commitment to being a good human being and his strong work ethic set a good example.

“We do what we do to help people and Eric is an embodiment of that principle,” Hallock said.

SM Fire Captain Eric Nagao (right) was named Firefighter of the year.

In recognizing the Santa Monica Police Department of the year, Officer Dave Hodgson, his 13 years of service was noted.

“We want to recognize an amazing man, father, husband, son and one hell of a police officer,” an official said and noted that SM has a shortage of sergeants, but that Hodgson “teaches, mentors and coaches new officers.” A member of the SWAT team, Hodgson “leads by example and is the consummate professional with his selfless dedication to his job.”

Law and Order’s 2024 Class of honorees include (left to right ) SM Fire Captain Eric Nagao, SM Officer David Hodgson, LAFD Station 69 Michael Thompson, LAPD Officer Adrian Perez
and the late Darrell Cunningham represented by his fiancée and son

(Donations to support Darrell Cunningham, Cynthia Lopez, and their children can be made to the Darrell Cunningham Blue Ribbon Trust Account, account number 5830995843. Please mail checks payable to “Blue Ribbon Trust for Darrell Cunningham” to Attn: Blue Ribbon Darrel Cunningham, P.O. Box 10188 Van Nuys, CA 91410.)

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