Masonic lodge honors Coryell County deputy
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Mt. Hiram Lodge No. 595 recognized Coryell County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Dingianni, awarding the lodge’s highest award for an officer, the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, at its 42nd annual Respect for the Rule of Law banquet held Tuesday evening at Grace United Methodist Church.
The banquet is held each year to honor and recognize members of local law enforcement agencies. The award is given based on nominations from the law enforcement community. The event’s master of ceremonies was Mason James Cooney and the guest speaker was Copperas Cove Police Chief Eddie Wilson.
Wilson started his speech sharing some negative comments he pulled from posts on social media about the Copperas Cove Police Department. He went on to share a version of a speech he gave to the graduating Police Academy class after he became the Chief of Police in 2016, sharing his thoughts as a brand-new police chief entering into a new era of policing. He focused on one of the biggest struggles the department was facing, which is employee retention.
To find one officer, it takes an average of 60-70 applicants and about a year to get that officer through the hiring process, the police academy and the field training program, Wilson said. The department currently has five openings and many potential resignations and retirements coming up in the very near future.
“Regardless, our department has a reputation for finding and developing some of the best talent in the state,” Wilson said. “Our gift is also our curse as we’ve seen many of our experienced staff use our reputation and their talents to move on to other opportunities. Since 1998, we have lost and hired more than 250 employees- that’s police, dispatch and support staff. We’ve lost and hired our entire police department almost three and a half times within the past two decades.”
Wilson then went on to explain that the most common answers to the question of ‘Why do you want to be a police officer?’ are also very clichéd- the applicants want to help people, make this community better, save the world and want to make a difference. Wilson called these reasons admirable but said that officers eventually do get jaded and cynical from all that they see on the job.
“Making a difference is hard,” Wilson said.
Wilson shared all the changes that the CCPD has implemented- from the R U OK program to the Cove Watch to the Explorers program, as well as the increased presence of officers in the community.
“We don’t want to just be seen, we want you to hear our voice,” Wilson said. He shared the names of several officers who have gone above and beyond to help out their neighbors and fellow community members.
Wilson thanked the community for their support and trust and partnership in these times of distrust and protest of law enforcement.
“Officers being allowed to be human and taking that moment to experience what it’s like to make a difference, that feeling certainly will deafen some of the static we see and hear on the news,” Wilson said.
Other notable guests included former Copperas Cove mayor John A. Hull, Coryell County Sheriff Scott Williams, Sheriff Chief Deputy Mark Wilcox, CCPD Deputy Chief Jeff Stoddard, Interim City Manager Ryan Haverlah, and from the 10th Court of Appeals, Chief Justice Tom Gray and Judge Rex Davis.
The identity of the recipient of the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year was not revealed until the end of the banquet, when Cooney read the recommendation letter signed by Coryell County Sheriff Scott Williams and Chief Deputy Mark Wilcox.
Tony Dingianni joined the Coryell County Sheriff’s Office in 2013 and since then “has had a profound and immediate impact on our community and law enforcement stature and reputation throughout the Coryell county area,” according to the letter, read by Cooney.
Dingianni was selected to create, train and lead the Coryell County Special Response Team (SRT) in 2017. He has attended several top-tier tactical training courses recognized by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, learning skills necessary to encounter non-conventional threats to citizens and Peace Officers that he then trains his team members in during their bi-weekly training. These skills have led to an increase in safety during critical incidents, narcotics operations and other missions conducted by the Sheriff’s Office.
Dingianni was one of the first deputies on scene during that aftermath of the Coryell Memorial Hospital explosion and coordinated searches throughout the various wings of the hospital. He also assisted deputies in the field and helped evacuate residents during the Coryell County wildfires in July 2018, where he found a female victim who was bleeding profusely. Dingianni utilized his medical skills learned through training to slow the bleeding and then transported the victim in his Sheriff’s Office vehicle to a medical facility, effectively saving her life.
“As you can see Deputy Dingianni has had an overwhelming impact on his department,” Cooney read from the recommendation. “His other deputies trust and respect his leadership, character and his ability to lead his team. In our current political state within our country, it is Peace Officers like Deputy Dingianni who will continue to stand out and represent our Department, our County and the great state of Texas for years to come.”
Dingianni said he had no idea he had even been nominated but was very appreciative.
When asked what it meant to receive the award, Dingianni said it was simple to explain.
“To be recognized by the public, by your people, is an extremely humbling experience,” Dingianni said. “I don’t do things for people to recognize me, but to be recognized by the people you work with, by your boss, by your teams that you’re leading- that’s without words. I don’t even know how to express that. I can’t come close to it. I still don’t know how to even realize it. I’ve got a little boy and kids right here and it makes everything better.”