Police Week is here again. My department, like many across the nation, has asked its members to recommend officers for recognition of their accomplishments over the last year. Some will receive awards for solving cases or making major arrests. It made me wonder however, about the officers who, despite the little things they do every day, are forgotten. It is actually these little actions which makes the difference but are rarely recognized at award time. This is about one such officer and his actions.
I met him about thirteen years ago. At the time, he was a patrol officer in the town he grew up in. He was well liked by the community and had never forgotten where he had come from. He always treated others with respect, including the less fortunate, such as drug addicts and prostitutes.
He told me they were victims. They were being victimized by the people who had made them addicted to drugs. Others were profiting from their misfortune. These people needed to be helped more than anything else. The individuals who needed to be arrested were the ones who were taking advantage of them in this condition.
To say the least, this position was not exactly shared by everyone he worked with. This officer, however, was a straight shooter and was not going to change his beliefs to try to get promoted or appease others. After 12 years working patrol, he was given an opportunity and was reassigned to work an anti-crime detail.
From the beginning, he and his partner did what most plain clothes officers do: they targeted the street level dealers and users. It was all about making a lot of arrests to show productivity. He wanted to make a difference and have an impact on the community he grew up in. He sought to go after the ones who were getting rich off the misery of these drug addicts.
A crime family sold drugs in his area, but no one had been able to put together a case strong enough against this group. He and his partner devised a plan that started very simply: they talked and got to know the local drug addicts. They began building a rapport and trust with these individuals.
Soon they were being given more and more information to help build a solid case against this particular group. The case at one point became so large that they needed to involve other law enforcement agencies, including the DEA. After a year and a half of investigation, over 70 were arrested and the drug gang was dismantled. Most of the members are serving 10 to 25 years in federal prison. For their work, he and his partner were both promoted to detective and reassigned to operate a full-time narcotics unit for their department.
My friend was grateful for the opportunity but never forgot the victims. He continued putting together cases and trying to help those who were suffering from addiction. On many occasions, these officers would go out of their way to find treatment centers and programs for the addicts they had shown respect to during their investigations. One such victim I remember personally.
She was a crack addict who came from a typical family and a normal middle class life. She was a wife and had a business but became addicted to crack cocaine. She lost everything and soon was working as a prostitute with a pimp to support her habit. The couple would wait until late at night and prey on intoxicated men leaving the local bars. She would lure the victims into dark areas and rob them of their money before they knew what had happened. If they struggled, the pimp would beat them ruthlessly.
Many of these men were from Central and South America and did not want to have any interaction with the police for fear of being deported. They were easy targets. It was not uncommon for the police to find an individual severely injured on many a night, unable and unwilling to identify the perpetrators who had attacked them.
This officer however, treated this woman like everyone else he had dealt with: with respect. Eventually she became clean, sober and was able to turn her life around. She moved out of the area and stayed away from drugs entirely. She would contact the officer on a regular basis and let him know how she was doing.
She had lost all her family and friends because of the drugs. This officer was one of only a few people she felt who was truly a friend and able to trust. He would intentionally make time for her, knowing it was helping to keep her clean. I watched with my own eyes this woman turn from a violent and nasty crack whore to a respectable and likeable human being.
All those years of hard living and drug use did not come without a price. After a few years of being drug free, this woman was diagnosed with cancer. Many addicts, when being diagnosed, will go back to using drugs, especially when the drugs they are being prescribed to help cope with the pain are the same ones they have an addiction to. She refused to go back to her old ways and continued her relationship with the officer.
During her darkest hours, she would continue to call him and say thank you for all he had done. He would wonder to himself on many occasions how it was possible for this woman, who was dying of cancer, could take the time to stop and thank him. What he didn’t realize was his patience and kindness was a major component that helped turn her life around. His actions made her ordeal that much more bearable. She never was able to recover from the illness, unfortunately, and recently passed away.
During Police Week, many will be honored for their heroic efforts and sacrifices during the past year. Although they are all well-deserved, many times it is the everyday acts of kindness and compassion we show the less fortunate among us that is forgotten. Whether it is going out of your way to help another or just stopping and listening, these actions make the difference and can change the lives of others forever, just as my friend did for a drug addict dying of cancer.
Officer Leo Dylewski has served with the Peekskill Police Department in Westchester County, New York 13 years. He is assigned to the Patrol Division. Officer Dylewski also teaches DARE and GREAT in the local schools and is a trained juvenile officer. He is a board member of the New York State Police Juvenile Officers Association and is also the president of the Westchester County Youth Officers Association. In May he will graduate from SUNY Empire State College with a Bachelors of Science degree in Community and Human Services with a concentration in Criminal Justice: Police Studies.