By Leonardo Romero
La Habra Journal
The American Legion Post 267 hosted its 52nd annual Police and Fire Luncheon last Tuesday at the Elk Lodge to commemorate the American Legion firefighter and police officer of the year.
The local legion’s post commander, Leona Lance, began the ceremony with an introduction followed by an invocation by La Habra Police Department Chaplain Mike Murphy.
“We don’t choose the police officer or firefighter of the year. The departments do,” said Lance. “All we do is supply the place, food, and the plaques.”
The Firefighter of the Year award was presented to Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Rob Cendejas, but he wasn’t present at the luncheon due to a recent on-the-job incident that left him injured. According to Battalion 21 Chief Scott Falhaus, Cendejas tore his shoulder when he fell on a rainy day while assisting a citizen entering an ambulance. Falhaus and four firefighters that work with Cendejas accepted the award on his behalf.
“We’ll hang this award proudly at the station in his office, so that when he returns from recovering he’ll see this on the wall,” said Falhaus.
During Falhaus’ speech he expressed his condolences to the law enforcement community over the recent passing of Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer.
He also added that he had spoken to Cendejas earlier that day. According to Falhaus, Cendejas was disappointed he couldn’t attend the ceremony, but was very pleased that he had been chosen.
LHPD Officer Michael Costanzo was recognized as the American Legion police officer of the year, which was presented to him by La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price.
Costanzo’s father, Steve Costanzo, was the recipient of the same award in 2004. After his father retired from the LHPD in 2005, Costanzo began his career as an LHPD officer in February 2006.
“Michael Costanzo’s work as a field training officer, experience in identifying suspects, and developing investigations make him a deserving recipient,” said Price. “He’s doing outstanding work.”
Costanzo recalled during his speech how sometimes as a child he would see his father come home from work with scrapes on his face. He’s always admired his father’s bravery, and he knew at a young age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps once he grew up.
His parents weren’t able to attend the luncheon, but they left a note with Chief Price that he read during his speech.
“I’m constantly trying to learn from the veterans and also from the new people,” said Costanzo. “This is a job that’s constantly changing, and I think we can all learn something from each other.”
Costanzo is in charge of training new officers, and through his guidance he instills the idea that they should always behave like the police officer they would want responding to their own family’s home.
According to Lance, the organization began planning for this luncheon one month ago.
In order to become a member of the American Legion you must have served or be currently serving in the US Armed Forces during a declared war.
Lance served as a physical therapist during World War II. For more information on how to become a member or how to donate to the American Legion visit their official website at www.legion.org.