By Mary O’KEEFE
Glendale police officer Joe Allen is well known in the Crescenta Valley community. He lives in the area and devotes countless hours to local events and is often the “go to” for many organizations when it comes to helping kids.
Allen is a member of the Elks Lodge in Glendale. Several weeks ago, the lodge nominated him for the Enrique Camarena Award and recently it was announced that the California-Hawaii Elks Association (CHEA) selected Allen as the winner of the state award. And not only did he win the state, but he also is the winner of the national award.
“I am humbled by the award,” Allen said. “I am [proud] to be recognized for the work I do and the affect I have spreading the message of prevention.”
That the award is given in honor of Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena is even more meaningful to Allen.
Camarena, 37, worked for the DEA as an undercover agent in Mexico investigating a major drug cartel. On Feb. 7, 1985 he left his office to keep a lunch date with his wife. He never kept that date. Camarena was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. His body was found a month later. To honor his memory and dedication in the battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors began wearing red badges. This gesture of support evolved into national Red Ribbon Week.
The Benevolent and Protective Order (BPO) of Elks across the country has been a strong voice against illegal drugs and a proponent of anti-drug programs. It only seemed natural that the Camarena family and the Elks would join in honoring those who continue Enrique’s mission.
The award is given to a law enforcement agent who “exemplifies the qualities and principles for which Agent Camarena gave his life,” according to the CHEA website.
The award was first presented about eight years ago. Back then it was given during the organization’s Pride Conference, however in 2010 the award was associated with the Camarena family.
“Red Ribbon Week is something the [BOP] Elks has totally supported,” said Tim Jaeger, CHEA Drug Awareness chairman.
Jaeger said he had known about Red Ribbon and the history of Camarena’s service, but the agent’s sacrifice took on a whole new meaning after he heard Camarena’s widow speak at an Elk’s conference.
“She had been in hiding until the last few years,” he said. The family was in danger due to the nature of Camarena’s investigation.
“To see how passionate she and her son were, it inspired me and everyone here,” Jaeger added. “I wanted California to get behind this award.”
Jaeger said the number of applications received has grown in recent years and he was impressed by Allen’s recommendations.
“I have never seen an [application] with so many recommendation letters,” he said. “There were even a couple of letters from 18 year olds that spoke of how he had affected their lives. He blew the competition away.”
Allen said he does what he does to help youth. He can be found at the Fire House youth center playing pool with teens or taking part in a Red Ribbon Week assembly at Fremont Elementary. He can also be found at Crescenta Valley Little League as director of Major Division.
Jaeger said he was also impressed with Allen’s dedication.
“It would be one thing that, after he knew he was nominated by his [Lodge], he would [slow down] but he held an alcohol symposium there,” he added.
Slowing down is not exactly in Allen’s vocabulary. If he is not working at his day job as a police officer or leading a seminar, he is available for friends or anyone who has concerns and needs guidance.
“What is really nice is we have friends with kids and he is a resource for them,” said Jamie Kelley, Allen’s girlfriend.
Being a parent of three, Allen understands the danger that kids face but always makes certain to mix positive messages with negative reality.
“I was never exposed to drugs, but I now understand and appreciate so much what he does in the classes [he teaches],” Kelley added.
Kelley admitted Allen does have a busy schedule but has seen the results of his work and knows how important it is.
Allen is a founding member of the Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition. He has conducted seminars at several of the organization’s outreach programs. He is also a lead in the group’s partnership with the DEA Drug Take Back Program.
In addition to helping those in his community, he takes his seminar of drug and alcohol education on the road. A couple of weeks ago he was in Iowa speaking to a group of law enforcement. He has also recently traveled to Phoenix and Nevada. He speaks to groups that range from the hundreds to a couple thousand and adjusts his discussion to each audience.
Allen credits his seminar skills to Sgt. Tom Lorenz who taught these types of classes to similar audiences. Allen worked with Lorenz and then continued to expand the classes as trends are ever changing.
CHEA is excited about Allen’s award. In 2010, a northern California officer won the national award, but this is the first time an officer from Southern California has won, Jaeger said.
“The award is the combination of an officer taking the risk [he or she] does on a daily basis and giving back to the community and [Allen] does that,” Jaeger said.
Allen added he was grateful that he worked for a police department that allowed him the time to do community outreach and the educational seminars.
“It makes me proud when [I] look at 23 years of work and years of experience [to be recognized like this],” he said. “And that I can help my community.”
Allen will receive his award on May 17 in Anaheim.
The Elks Lodge is continuing to raise funds to help support their anti-drug programs. To help, visit www.elks.org.