Although the annual Grove City Division of Police Officer of the Year award is given to an individual, this year's recipient looks at the recognition as a team honor.

"There's no way I would be able to receive this award without the other officers who work with me on our special-operations bureau," said Nick Deskins, a detective with the division. "I really share the award with them because we work together as a team."

Along with Deskins, personnel who work on the special unit include Sgt. Doug Olmstead, officers Chris Pfeiffer and Mike Reber and K-9 officer-handler Brian Kitko and his four-legged partner, Max.

The bureau was formed two years ago to focus on narcotics and shoplifting, Deskins said.

"Narcotics is our main focus, but it goes hand in hand with shoplifting crimes," he said, as most shoplifting cases ultimately are connected to drugs.

"It's usually not someone just taking something for their own personal use," Deskins said of shoplifting suspects. "They may be looking to pawn the merchandise to get money to buy drugs or to give the items to someone who is going to resell them and who will give them drugs in return."

Some drug dealers want specific items for their own personal use and provide drugs to someone who will commit the theft for them, he said.

"What we're usually trying to do when we arrest someone for a shoplifting crime is try to parlay that into leading us to a drug trafficker," Deskins said. "We have three felony drug cases in court now, two in state court and one in federal court, that originated first with a shoplifting case."

The special-operations bureau works closely with the loss prevention officers at local stores, he said.

"They are another part of the team, really," Deskins said. "It used to be that stores were hesitant to report shoplifting cases to police. They felt like it would be taking us away from working on other crimes, but they recognize how important it is to report thefts, especially with the frequent connection to drug trafficking."

Deskins, 38, started as a patrol officer with the Grove City department in 2002. He served as a general detective before being assigned to the newly formed special operations bureau in 2016.

Serving the public runs in his family.

"My dad is a Columbus firefighter; he's getting ready to retire," Deskins said. "I guess I got my interest in public service from him. He jokes with me that if I had just scored a little higher on the fire test, I could have been a firefighter, too."

Being a law-enforcement officer suits him fine, Deskins said.

"There's a great deal of satisfaction knowing you're helping people and helping make the community a safe place to live," he said. "When we're able to put a felon behind bars, that's a rewarding feeling."

Other awards presented April 26 at the banquet included:

* Communication technician Joe Asbury, civilian of the year.

* Ed Reeves, volunteer of the year.

* Draquesana Varney, officers Kitko and Max, Thomas McCoy, Brian Strawser, Doug Fraley, Brandon Judd and detective Teri Ruslander, distinguished-service awards. This award recognizes employees who go above and beyond their duty.

* Strawser and officers Paul Duemmel and Ralph Lillico, lifesaving citations.