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Wiinanen receives national VFW recognition

North Dakota VFW Safety Chairman Mark Wagemann, left, presents the VFW National Law Enforcement Award to police officer Eric Wiinanen.

Police Officer Eric Wiinanen of the West Fargo Police Department was recognized as a Veterans of Foreign Wars National Law Enforcement Award winner on Tuesday, Jan. 4, during a special presentation by Mark Wagemann, North Dakota VFW State Safety Chairman and member of West Fargo VFW Post 7564. Wiinanen represents North Dakota VFW's selection as one of the fifty-four law enforcement officers in the United States and its territories to receive the national award.

Wiinanen began his career with the West Fargo Police Department in February of 1996. In 1999 he received specialized training in the Drug and Alcohol Resistance and Education (D.A.R.E.) program and began educating the students of the West Fargo Public School system. The D.A.R.E. program provides the tools for school children to avoid the use of alcohol and drugs, deal with peer pressure and bullying, and make good life choices. To date, he has provided instruction to approximately 5700 students.

Not only do the D.A.R.E. students participate in the classroom experience, they are involved in the production of public service announcements (PSAs) relating to drug and alcohol abuse. Over 100 PSAs have been produced, many of which have appeared on local television broadcasts. Wiinanen has also coordinated 40 of the weeklong D.A.R.E. Summer Camp programs for sixth and seventh graders; and was responsible for the Gang Resistance Education and Avoidance Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program from 1999-2002, in which 1200 West Fargo seventh grade students participated.

He is also called upon frequently to present training on Internet safety for students and parents; personal safety for first and second graders; bike safety to young people; and has taught the "I wish the hitting would stop" domestic violence prevention program.

Wiinanen has displayed his other talents by constructing and managing the websites for the West Fargo Police Department, the National Night Out program and for the City of West Fargo; and was awarded the West Fargo Chamber's Police Employee of the Year award for 2000-2001.

West Fargo Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan, who nominated Wiinanen for the national award, said "he is a true asset to the West Fargo Police Department and to the community as a positive role model for the young people."

The VFW National Law Enforcement Award is presented to any individual who serves in a municipal, county, state or federal unit tasked with enforcement of the laws pertaining to their area of responsibility. This award does not apply to individuals employed by private companies or security services. The criteria for this award requires the candidate must have demonstrated recognition by colleagues or those they serve, consistant excellence in the performance of duties, consistent dedication to official responsibilities over a period of years, and continuous growth in responsibilities and skills within their profession.