Now serving his 12th year with the Howard County Police Department, Cpl. James Zammillo was named Police Officer of the Year for the second time on April 13 during its annual awards ceremony at the Kossiakoff Conference and Education Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.
Law enforcement has been a part of Zammillo's life since his childhood days in New Jersey, watching his father work long hours for the Bureau of Firearms, Tobacco, Alcohol and Explosives.
In his father's interaction with both local and state police departments, Zammillo, 33, says he developed an interest in the work of police officers, later eyeing the Howard County department's dedication and reputation after his family moved to the area in 1988.
"I was very surprised. I didn't expect it," Zammillo said, having won the award in 2010 as a community resource officer for Wilde Lake in Columbia. "The nomination was humbling because every day you go out and do your job. It's committing to that professionalism and that service that the community expects."
Zammillo was recognized for his work with the newly launched Pathway Patrol Section, which began in August, as well as his involvement in several cases within the department's robbery section.
Riding bicycles and electric motorcycles alongside other officers, Zammillo said pathway patrols have heightened police visibility around all 150 miles of Columbia's intertwining paths.
"A lot of the nuisance crimes that went untouched on the pathways, whether it's people drinking or smoking marijuana, we've been able to curtail that activity," he said. "We really don't see as much as when we first started."
Community outreach has also been a top priority, Zammillo said, with several elementary schools located just off the pathway system, including Cradlerock, Stevens Forest, Bryant Woods and Wilde Lake elementary. During frequent visits, Zammillo said he and other pathway patrol officers meet with both faculty and students, reading to classes and spending lunch and recess with the students.
"There's a lot of negative press out there with police and this is something that we've been able to do to really humanize the badge," Zammillo said. "We've been able to talk to these children and say, 'We are people. You shouldn't be scared of us. We want you guys to feel comfortable with us.'"
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner said this program is "one of his favorites," adding that Zammillo's efforts span throughout 2015 and continue in 2016.
"He really exemplifies what we're looking for in a police officer today: a good balance of community policing and enforcement of the mission of the Police Department, whether it's traffic safety or community safety," Gardner said. "He has hit the ground running in the new pathway unit. I'm very, very proud of what he's been able to accomplish."
As detective corporal, Zammillo said he also handles commercial and street robberies, searching for any possible trends in each robbery.
In November, one robbery at Meadowridge Wine & Spirits liquor store in Elkridge involved three months of investigation, he added, when a woman attacked the store owner after attempting to steal a bottle of liquor. Zammillo said she was later found and arrested, pleading guilty to the crime.
Gardner said Zammillo's growth with the department has been beneficial to both his fellow officers and the community.
"I'm very, very impressed with the initiative and drive that he has in every component that he's been in," Gardner said.
Reflecting on the past year, Zammillo said it's the work of the Howard Police Department and the community that still gets him excited to make the county a better and safer place for its residents.
"You can't provide a quality service if your community doesn't stand by you," Zammillo said. "I think Howard County has always been on the forefront of new ideas, new programs to always provide that customer service that the citizens should have."
This year's award recipients also include Detective 1st Class Ryan Gregory, Detective of the Year; Pfc. Casey Viou, Community Service Award; Officer Daniel Martin, First Year Service Award; Pfc. John Salato, Scott Wheeler Traffic Safety Award; school crossing guard Wanda McDonald, Civilian of the Year; Senior Dispatcher 1st Class Rob Roy Baker, Telecommunicator of the Year; Auxiliary Officer Paul Bertulis, Auxiliary Officer of the Year; Fiona Tobler, Animal Control Volunteer of the Year; Police Explorer Capt. Younes Elmaataoui, Explorer of the Year; and Volunteer Mounted Patrol Officer Linda Reed, Volunteer Mounted Patrol Officer of the Year.