Two UTPD officers have been named University Officers of the Year for the East Tennessee region for their work in breaking up a car theft ring that targeted UT and for removing drugs and weapons from campus streets.
The Tennessee Highway Safety Office recognized Officers Lester Gonzalez and Jeffrey Quirin with the awards during a ceremony Monday at Bridgewater Place in West Knoxville.
Gonzalez was lauded for foiling a group of car thieves that had stolen 10 vehicles from campus over several months. While on patrol in the early morning hours of September 23, Gonzalez noticed four males acting suspiciously on the top level of a UT parking garage. He identified and interviewed them and discovered three were juveniles and one was an adult. The three juveniles were placed under arrest for curfew violation, and the adult male was issued a criminal trespass warning and told not to return to campus.
UTPD investigators were able to connect the vehicle thefts and burglaries to a ring of individuals who were involved in stealing cars on campus and in the Knoxville area. Arrest warrants were subsequently issued for the individuals involved.
UTPD investigators recovered all the stolen vehicles.
“If it were not for Officer Gonzalez’s due diligence in performance of his duties, the individuals involved may have not been identified and/or caught,” wrote UTPD Sergeant Ashley Stonerock in her nomination letter.
Quirin was recognized for his ability to look beyond a routine traffic violation and take an investigation one step further to uncover large quantities of narcotics and guns.
“It is not uncommon for Officer Quirin to turn a traffic stop for a simple infraction or a call for suspected drug activity into a felony arrest,” wrote Sergeant Bobby Knight in his nomination letter.
Quirin, who is a member of UTPD’s Strategic Initiatives Unit, is partnered with Bruno, the department’s only drug and apprehension dog. The two work together to sniff out weapons and narcotics.
Quirin leads the department in felony drug arrests and has assisted or been involved in a multitude of major cases. He also is routinely involved with UTPD’s Community Relations Unit, where he assists with outreach programs and speaks at events.