Officer Steve Nelson of Cal State Fullerton University Police received an award Thursday from the Orange County Auto Theft Advisory Committee (ATAC) for recovering $49,000 worth of stolen vehicles last year.
ATAC, the awarding agency, is a partnership between law enforcement agencies, insurance companies and and other auto-related companies to reduce theft in Orange County. Every year, the committee gives the top officer of the year award to the officer with the highest vehicle recovery count.
In 2013, Nelson recovered eight stolen vehicles within his regular patrol area which is a one-mile radius around the university.
Nelson’s high vehicle recovery count within such a small patrol area was what earned him an honorable mention award.
“It was an honor,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t trying to work for it. I happened to drive down the right street, at the right time, and pass the right car.”
He was one of 28 officers recognized for their efforts in reducing vehicle theft in Orange County, and he was the only officer to receive the honorable mention award.
Nelson noticed that most of the stolen cars were being found in or near gang neighborhoods, so he would focus his patrol more on those areas.
However, Nelson gave most of the credit to the technology officers are provided with. Patrol cars have an automatic license plate recognition device installed which scans license plates using infrared cameras attached around the car and alerts the officer when a car could be stolen. Seven of the vehicles Nelson recovered were with the help of the license plate recognition device.
To Chief Dennis DeMaio, Nelson’s award was no surprise.
“He’s an excellent officer who is very humble, just puts his nose to the grind,” DeMaio said. “He cares about the mission to keep the students safe in this university and shows it everyday, and I couldn’t be any prouder.”
Nelson also received the Ashley Nelson award, an internal honor named after a student who was killed in an accident by a drunk driver, in February. This award is given to the officer with the most DUI arrests; Nelson made 38 DUI arrests in 2013.
But competitions and awards don’t really matter to Nelson, he said.
“I’m not going to feed off the competition,” Nelson said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I do.”
Last year, there were 27 reports of stolen vehicles on campus, nine fewer than 2012.