Joe’s an LAPD hero without a badge

first_imgLike so many kids growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Joe Zelenis went to bed every Tuesday night after watching TV’s “Dragnet,” dreaming how he’d someday help LAPD Sgt. Joe Friday and his buddies catch the bad guys. Deep down, though, he knew he never would. Not with cerebral palsy. The Los Angeles Police Department needed big, strong guys. So a kid in a wheelchair would never be able to pass the physical exam, complete the obstacle course at the Police Academy, chase a bandit down an alley or strap on a gun and walk a beat. But Joe Zelenis had something that every cop needs – good eyes and ears. So when the LAPD put out the call in 1992 for civilian volunteers to help in Neighborhood Watch programs, Zelenis knew his dream had come true. Part of the LAPD family. The words couldn’t have made Joe any prouder if they had been spoken by his boyhood hero, Sgt. Joe Friday. “When I saw the chief at the opening, I went up to him and saluted,” Joe said. “He asked my name and thanked me for the job I’ve been doing. He’s a nice guy.” Around the West Valley police station, there isn’t a cop who doesn’t think Joe Zelenis is a nice guy and a member of the LAPD family. “Joe’s an inspiration to every officer who works here,” says Sgt. Martin Fentress, in charge of the West Valley community relations department. “You just know he’s overcome so many obstacles and disabilities to be here helping us do the job. It just gives everyone a lift when he comes through that door.” That’s the thing he can’t understand, Joe says. Why more people in the community don’t come through that door to volunteer at their local police stations a few hours a week to help LAPD. Why they don’t get involved and join their local neighborhood watch groups. “The more eyes and ears we have on the streets, the less bad stuff happens,” Joe Zelenis said. Sgt. Joe Friday couldn’t have said it any better. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 dennis.mccarthy@dailynews.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card “I joined the Neighborhood Watch program, and also served as a greeter at the old West Valley station before they tore it down,” Joe said Wednesday, getting ready for duty. One afternoon a week, his mom and dad, Vytas and Vanda Zelenis, drive their 51-year-old son the six blocks from their Reseda home to the new West Valley police station, where Joe answers phones in the community relations office. The rest of the week, you can catch him patrolling the streets of his neighborhood in his wheelchair – using his eyes and ears to keep his neighbors safe from the bad guys. “Joe Zelenis adds a whole new perspective to community policing,” said LAPD Chief William Bratton, who met Joe last year at the opening of the new West Valley station. `’His weekly commitment at the station helps us get more officers in the field without sacrificing services to the community. We’re proud to make Joe part of our LAPD family.” last_img