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Santa Ana’s most decorated cop, Sgt. John Follo, is retiring

December 30, 2009

From the Orange County Register – The most decorated officer at the Santa Ana Police Department is calling it quits on December 30 after 29 years of chasing bad guys and leading his SWAT team.

Sgt. John Follo, 50, who supervises the elite 10-member Strike Force team, is retiring after being a full or part-time SWAT officer for most of his career.

While he worked on other assignments ranging from narcotics and vice to serving on the Community Oriented Policing Task Force and being co-commander of the Department of Justice Counter Terrorism Task Force for Orange County, his most recent assignment has been to lead the Strike Force team since its inception in late 2005.

The Strike Force is the only full-time SWAT team in Orange County and one of seven or eight in the state, Follo said.

“For me it was the dream job to be assigned to a full-time SWAT team. I enjoyed it immensely, but it was a lot of work as well,” Follo said.

The team trains at least 25 percent of the time and most of the rest of the time is spent serving high-risk warrants, battling barricaded suspects, hostages and situations involving active gunfire.

“You have to lead by example. You have to be willing to take the risks,” Follo said. “My job is to make sure we handle the incident as safe as possible for the officers and the community.”

Those who have worked with the veteran sergeant described him as a leader, mentor and friend with an unmatchable legacy.

Det. John Rodriguez, a Strike Force member, said he has known Follo for over 20 years.

“Here is a man who still puts on a uniform on Friday and Saturday nights when he could be home sleeping. Sgt. Follo chooses to be in the field with his troops combating violent crime,” Rodriguez said.

“He has led from the front and he has never asked any of his officers to do anything he would not do himself. He is the senior sergeant in the department, yet he is here every weekend working with us until 2:00 a.m.,” Det. Robert Rodriguez said. “Sgt. Follo has left a legacy for others to follow.”

Police Chief Paul M. Walters said Follo has been an outstanding officer and supervisor who will be a tremendous loss: “He doesn’t brag and quietly goes about his job, but he is extremely good at it.”

Follo is reluctant to talk about his career and quickly dismisses accolades.

“I’m just one part of the Strike Force. Now I’ll pass the torch to a newer generation of officers,” Follo said.

Follo said he is fortunate that his passion for police work has not affected his personal life.

Follo said his wife’s father – former Santa Ana Fire Chief Bill Reimer — worked long and odd hours. “He kind of paved the way for that…I feel tremendous fortune that my wife understands what comes with the job.”

Follo plans to spend his last day leading his team on a four-mile run before turning in his equipment — unless duty calls.

Then he will get to spend New Year’s Eve with his wife, Terri. “I don’t think I’ve had a New Year’s off in 20 years,” Follo said with a smile.

Follo said he is going to spend time with his wife and three children: James, 25; Carrie, 20; and Mary, 17.

By Denisse Salazar
Orange County Register

Sgt. John Follo’s honors
1988 – Uniformed Officer of the Year
1988 – Class A commendation – Life Saving
1994 – SAPOA – Police Sergeant of the Year
1995 – Police Service Medal for Valor
1996 – Distinguished Service Medal for Valor
1996 – SAPD Sworn Supervisor (Sergeant) of the Year
1999 – City of Santa Ana “Total Quality Service” Award
2000 – Police Service Medal – COP Task Force
2000 – Chief’s Award
2005 – California Department of Justice – Special Recognition Award for Commanding Counter Terrorism Task Force
2006 – US Secret Service – Special Recognition Award
2007 – Chiefs Award – Strike Force/Crime Reduction
2009 – Chiefs Award – 26 years of SWAT service
Source: Santa Ana Police Department

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