The Santa Maria Elks Lodge 1538 banquet hall was the safest place on the Central Coast Wednesday night during the lodge’s 46th annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Night.

The annual event is a chance for the fraternal order and the community to say thank you to area law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the California Highway Patrol, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, County Probation and Sheriff Departments along with the Santa Maria and Guadalupe Police Departments.

“We honor and thank each of you, the law enforcement officers of our city, our county, our state and our federal government. You have honored us, the Elks and this community, by enforcing the law so we honor you tonight,” Elks 1538 Exalted Ruler Tony Dart told the crowd.

The event is also a chance for each participating law enforcement agency to recognize a member of its staff with a special award.

“We are in a difficult time in this country where we are not getting the support we need and it comes from you folks every single year and it is truly appreciated,” Guadalupe Police Chief Gary Hoving said.

The FBI’s Santa Maria Senior Resident Agent David Blanchard took the opportunity to recognize one of the newest agents now assigned to the Santa Maria Resident Office.

Special Agent Edward Lewis is one of five new agents assigned to Santa Maria, Blanchard said, and since he has been assigned here he has been hard at work. His FBI training and background in accounting led Lewis to fighting white collar crimes.

Blanchard said his experience and work ethic helped Lewis close a case, which the office had been working on for some time prior to his arrival, involving a local attorney who was defrauding senior citizens of hundreds of thousands of dollars, in just six months.

“I couldn’t have been put in a better area than Santa Maria and the surrounding area. I have a great group of squad members and co-workers but more importantly this is a great community … everyone here takes care of each other, you support each other and I look forward to working very hard to keeping you guys safe for the years coming up,” Lewis said.

The Santa Barbara County Probation Department’s Deputy Chief Tanja Heitman was on hand to present Tiffany Phillips with the Santa Barbara County Probation Officer of the Year Award.

Philips has worked in the juvenile and adult divisions of the probation department during her 16 years with the agency.

“Officer Phillips is known to embrace challenges that others often find taxing and demanding,” Heitman said.

The County District Attorney’s Office took the opportunity to recognize Senior Deputy District Attorney Brooke Gerard.

Gerard has the task of reviewing every case that comes to the District Attorney and decides whether charges will be filed and what the potential defendant will be charged with.

Gerard reviews more than 4,000 cases a year.

When presented with the Elks Law Enforcement Appreciation Award she thanked the lodge and all of the other law enforcement agencies in the room that help her do her job.

“I am always aware of the consequences of my job on peoples’ lives. Whether I choose to file charges or not file charges. I make sure that I have the right information to file the right charge against the right person, that means a lot of requests for further investigations,” Gerard said.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown recognized Deputy Sheriff Jorden Walker.

Walker, stationed in Santa Maria, has helped the Sheriff’s Department solve some recent high profile cases and helped to save many lives, Brown said.

Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen recognized the department's Officer of the Year, Det. Andy Brice.

City of Guadalupe Public Safety Director Hoving recognized GPD Records Technician Norma Bribiesca as the Guadalupe Police Employee of the Year during the awards dinner.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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