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Sign-Language Cop Signs Off After 32-Year Career

Sometimes, the drama of police work can’t be heard.

“Are you hurt?” Officer Ken Gregory asked the female participant in a knock-down, bloody domestic dispute.

Officer Gregory

She was deaf. Gregory knew some sign language.

“Where are you hurt?” he asked her.

Not yet fully proficient, Gregory tried but could not explain to the deaf woman that her husband was going to jail.

That’s when he decided to get serious about sign language.

Gregory, who retired from the Anaheim PD on Nov. 12, 2009, recounted this story as he reflected on his 32½-year career as an officer, which included being the only cop in the department proficient in sign language.

Esperanza High thanks Gregory for his service

His expertise was frequently sought by other law enforcement agencies.

Gregory, 56, enjoyed a career that was packed with making connections with the public – something he thrived on for 27 years working patrol.

“The people in Anaheim made my job enjoyable,” said Gregory, a 30-year resident who is enjoying retirement with his wife, Sharan.

The Gregorys have two grown children, Adam, 22, a fireman, and Stacy, 26, who teaches English in Japan with her husband, Jonathan.

Gregory is a recognizable face around town – and other towns.

“I walk into a Costco and people say hi,” he says. “I go to Las Vegas and people from Anaheim recognize me.”

Gregory’s parents are from Winnipeg, Canada. He recalled working the night when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup finals. A woman walking to her car said hello to him. He recognized her Canadian accent, and the two chatted for a bit.

Throughout his law enforcement career, he’s thrived on such human connections.

Now, he and Sharan enjoy going on cruises. He’s been on two since he retired, and is planning a third.

Gregory, a graduate of Hawthorne High School (“Home of the Beach Boys,” he proudly says), graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Cal State Long Beach and spent 20 months as a cadet for the Inglewood PD before joining the Anaheim PD in 1977.

“They were hiring,” he explained of his decision to join the Anaheim force.

He spent two years doing CSI work “before it was cool” and worked burglary detail, but his heart always was in patrol.

For the last eight years, Gregory has worked as a volunteer for the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. Since retiring, he volunteers two to three times a week.

“I miss the people at the Anaheim PD,” he says. “But I’m happy.”

And he’ll be happy to say that in sign language.

New lieutenant says recent promotions ‘represent change’ for police department

Sharon Pietrok was all smiles at a recent promotion ceremony for Anaheim PD employees.

Pietrok is among those who are changing the face of Anaheim PD’s leadership. In the past six months, the department has promoted two new captains and six new lieutenants.

The lieutenant receives her new badge from chief John Welter

The fact that she is among three women in that group isn’t the story, she says.

“The focus shouldn’t have been on the fact that three women were promoted to leadership positions, but that the department promoted two dispatchers, two sergeants, three lieutenants and a captain in one day,” she says.

“That represents change in an organization,” she said.

Pietrok, a Canyon High School graduate who also holds a master’s degree from Long Beach State, has enjoyed a 20-year career at Anaheim PD.

Working child abuse investigations has been her favorite and most challenging assignment.

“Child victims cannot always articulate to you what happened,” she says. “You know someone — usually a parent, family member or trusted person — has harmed a child, but you cannot always gather the necessary evidence to bring these perpetrators to justice. It’s not for the lack of trying. Sometimes perpetrators get away with some pretty horrific crimes.”

Pietrok sees the Anaheim PD’s biggest strength as its willingness to work with the community to improve quality-of-life issues, as well as holding members of the community accountable for what they’ve done to help out a situation or an issue.

She believes the department can improve in the area of being consistent with the message it delivers to the public.

In five years, Pietrok would like to be assigned to the Anaheim Family Justice Center – a job she feels would be “very rewarding.”

As for the department itself, she would like to see the department back up to strength, 400 officers, as well as with a comparable support staff.

“We will be engaging the community and the other city departments on deeper levels,” Pietrok says. “We are already headed in that direction, thanks to Chief Welter. After working three years in the Community Policing Team, it’s very apparent that the relationship-building has paid off citywide.”

Pietrok is a recent recipient of the Randall W. Gaston Community Service Award for her work in effecting change in the West Anaheim neighborhoods, with the help of Officer Mark McMullin and Crime Prevention Specialist Susie Schmidt.  “You don’t achieve great results without working with great people,” she says.

She was recognized by the DeMolay youth organization and nominated by the Anaheim PD command staff.

In her spare time, Pietrok is an avid practitioner of personal defense.

“It empowers others just to know they can have a plan or options,” she says. “Knowledge is king, so discussing possible situations and scenarios before they may occur helps others to think of what options will be available to them.”

Pietrok says that in her new role, she hopes to “remind others of our own abilities and responsibilities as individuals to make change happen both in our personal and professional lives.”

As for women in the police force, she believes it’s important for them to take an active leadership role in police management or any other organization.

“We’re all individuals regardless of gender or ethnicity, and we all have something unique to offer due to our varied life experiences and upbringings,” Pietrok says.

“And the more we organizationally see our own differences, the better it allows us to serve our diverse community. Every voice counts.”

Especially the voice of her father, who in some ways she has modeled her career after.

“I’d like to think I operate like him — what you see is what you get,” Pietrok says. “He never settled for mediocrity and he always spoke his mind.”