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Chief lauds officers, dispatchers in bank robbery

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Law enforcement officials converge on a car that may have been used in a Friday afternoon robbery at the United Bank branch on Berryville Avenue. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Winchester Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher, left, confers with an officer while the area is being searched for a suspect involved in a bank robbery Friday afternoon. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- City police officers and emergency dispatchers who worked during the Oct. 14 armed robbery of United Bank received accolades Thursday for their quick responses and efforts to keep agents infomed and the area safe.

"We're certainly very proud of our people," Winchester police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher said Friday. "It was good to finally be able to publicly acknowledge the officers earning our combat award for the bank incident."

Lt. John Micheal "Mike" Danielson arrived first at the bank on Berryville Avenue only to face gunfire from the suspect fleeing the scene. Officers Amber Polk and Chris Ivins had arrived a few seconds later to assist, according to Sanzenbacher.

"I think the thing we're most proud of is that all three of the officers reverted to training in a very stressful situation," Sanzenbacher said. "Mike [Danielson] actually reloaded on the run when he didn't have to so he'd have a full magazine. That's thinking on your feet.

"They also did not get tunnel vision," Sanzenbacher said. "They were aware of their surroundings and there were children playing on the playground so they withheld fire until they were sure the suspect was clear of harming anyone, any community members or children playing and it was just dumb luck that the guy got away."

Rather than rush in and expose themselves to possible additional gunfire when the suspect crashed a car in a culvert, responding officers waited until agents with a ballistic shield arrived before they approached, according to the chief.

James Louis Whittlesey, 51, last known to live in Maryland, stands accused of robbing the bank and firing on officers. Whittlesey remains held by immigration authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada awaiting return to the United States to face local charges related to the heist as well as federal indictments for the armed bank robbery in Winchester and similar incidents in other states.

The department did not release the names of the officers involved in the response to the robbery per its policy. But the awards ceremony gave the department a chance to formally acknowledge the efforts by the officers and the dispatchers made that day.

"It was finally nice to say 'hey, great job guys,'" Sanzenbacher said. "So that was very rewarding, plus acknowledging what the ECC did on that day."

Danielson, Polk and Ivins received the combat service medal award for their efforts.
The three dispatchers on duty in the Emergency Communications Center at the time of the robbery alerted law enforcement in a matter of seconds and then kept them informed during the incident, according to Sanzenbacher.

"They were very critical to the outcome there, that the officers were safe and I think they handled like 194 calls during that time period," Sanzenbacher said. "Plus taking all the information from us and trying to help us with the investigation and stuff was a nice effort on their part as well."

Lead ECC specialist Kelly Brill and specialists Tammy DeHaven and Elizabeth Yost received the distinguished service medal for their work during the robbery.

Dispatchers entered the robbery information into the computer automated dispatch system within three seconds of receiving the call, according to Sanzenbacher. Danielson arrived on the scene in another few seconds after he received information from dispatchers, followed shortly thereafter by Polk and Ivins.

"The reason we were there so quickly is the fact [dispatchers] did their job so quickly," Sanzenbacher said. "So it's good to see them recognized. We often forget them."

Also at the department event Brandon Noland received the Officer of the Year award and Julie Pearce received the Volunteers In Policing of the Year award.


It's great to see dispatchers recognized for their actions in a time of great stress. All too often they are the forgotten members of a team and we usually only hear about them when something has gone wrong. Congratulations to you all for a job well done.

I'm glad their fast response was not as speedy as the recognition process for their quick response. It would appear the Chief could have issued these honors a long time ago.

It's departmental policy not to immediately release the names of officers involved in a shooting.

This will be unpopular! You can say great job guys and it should mean just as much if the dumb public knows about it or not. Also, many people do just as good of job at their proffesions and get no public acknowledgement. Actually better in the private sector. In the private sector you would be satisfied the people acknowledged did their job and wondering how the heck that dude was able to get to Handi Mart after crawling out of his hiding spot and borrow a cell phone, then get out of town. I would be critical before I would be publicly handing out flowers. But I run a successful business, what do I know?

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