Reedley, Sanger PDs honor upstanding citizens

Local police departments present citizens with Annual Citizen Award, recognizes individuals’ support of local first responders

John Urbano of Reedley posing for a photo with Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza and Commander Marc Ediger while displaying his citizens award. (Cyndee Friesen, Reedley Police Department)
Serena Bettis
Published August 16, 2023  • 
6:00 pm

MADERA, Calif. – The Reedley and Sanger police departments honored two local community members with the Fresno and Madera Counties Police Chiefs Association’s Annual Citizen Award.  

Jessica Guerra of Sanger and John Urbano of Reedley received the Citizen Award at a ceremony at the San Joaquin Winery in Madera on Aug. 16. The award is given out to non-sworn individuals who have contributed to the efforts of law enforcement officers in the area, Sanger Police Department Cmdr. Joshua Johnson said. 

“It can be something that may have been a one-time event,” Johnson said. “Maybe a citizen assisted a police officer or another community member in a significant way, and the agency wants to recognize those actions, or we recognize somebody who’s doing ongoing efforts.”

Johnson said the police chiefs association asks each department throughout the two counties for award nominations for a citizen of the year award and each department then issues its own award to the citizen it nominates. At the awards ceremony, the departments read out a write-up of why they nominated the award recipient.

“What we’re looking for is someone who has contributed a lot to the community in different ways, furthering the community and what they do,” Reedley Chief of Police Joe Garza said.

Garza said the Reedley Police Department recognized Urbano, who retired in June after more than 35 years working with the city of Reedley, for the work he has done with animal services in the area.

“John was very successful over the past several years of keeping a save rate, meaning that we were able to save over 90% of the dogs that he came in contact with that were strays, which is equal to if not higher than most no-kill shelters,” Garza said. 

Over the years, Urbano worked with multiple rescue agencies such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Animal Compassion Team (ACT) and The Cat House on the Kings to return lost pets and adopt out strays dogs. 

“We know animals — dogs especially to some people — are like kids,” Garza said. “By reuniting dogs with families … he was helping the community in that respect.” 

Garza said that Urbano would come into contact with an average of 30 dogs each month and was good at knowing if a stray would be a good fit for a family.

From Urbano himself, he said he could not have done this work without help from the ACT rescue, which the department started working with over 10 years ago. Before that, he said he would bring animals to the SPCA in Fresno and not know what was going on with them after that.

“It’s good to know when we work with ACT that they’re going to be held or be fostered or adopted out,” Urbano said. “We saved a lot of lives over the past 10 years or so, so that feels really good.” 

Guerra received the award from the Sanger PD thanks to her continued efforts in the community. She works as an associate pastor at Grace Community Church and as the chaplain for the Sanger Fire Department. Guerra said that in her role with the fire department, she acts as a support person for fire personnel in times of crisis or with any personal needs. 

“I think that the kind of work they all do can be very taxing and heartbreaking, and I’m always wanting to bring some light and let them know there’s support out there,” Guerra said.

Guerra is specifically trained in assisting individuals in crisis and also uses her time with the fire department to interact with and support police personnel. She said that whenever she is out with the fire department and sees residents she knows, she is sure to introduce them to the staff she is with, and she helps give tours of the fire department as well.

Jessica Guerra of Sanger posing for a photo with her Citizens Award alongside Sanger Police Department Cmdr. Joshua Johnson. (Cyndee Friesen, Reedley Police Department)

“She’s actively involved in the community, and she regularly is involved in church programs which engage citizens and help send a message of unity,” Johnson said. “She’s been a pretty integral part of fostering relationships between our law enforcement officers, fire department and the community by bridging gaps and building trust.”

Guerra said she has lived in Sanger for about 30 years and was a member of the fire department’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which trains people to prepare for emergencies, prior to becoming the chaplain in January. 

“It’s an honor to work alongside (Guerra) and be able to present her with this award,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to recognize someone who consistently cares for us, and we get to reciprocate and show we care for her as well.” 

Other individuals from the Fresno County area who received a Citizen Award include Mario Olvera, Martin Luna, Joshua Luna and Joslyn Luna, who were all recognized by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office; as well as Sara Brown, Trinity-Rae Martinez, Ariel Martinez, Carina Fuentes-Villegas and Domitila Villegas-Zacarias, who were recognized by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter