A tearful thank you from a stranger stops down dramatic stories of drug-dealer and sexual-predator take-downs.

Earlier this week neighborhood resident and activist Bill Vandivort II organized a Chubby’s Restaurant appreciation breakfast for police officers from the northeast division. Several officers including Police Chief David Brown, a former northeast commander, and new commander Andrew Acord (as well as photographer Danny Fulgencio and I) attended. At the time of the breakfast, police were gearing up for a busy week, Brown told us. The gathering of five past presidents for the opening of the Bush Library ranks a four out of five on the security scale, he says.

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Telling war stories

Before the eggs arrived, Vandivort started in with the war stories (which were leading up to the big award presentation) Specifically: There was a time, about 2006, when Brown was overseeing the northeast division and the drug problem in a certain Forest-Audelia area apartment complex was way out of hand. Brown had declared war on this complex, promising to take down drug dealers who were blatantly conducting business out in the open.

“They said we’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this thing and [Brown] said well, then why not throw the kitchen sink at it,” Vandivort recalls. And that’s how “operation kitchen sink,” a surge that resulted in hundreds of arrests and a newfound pride in our neighborhood police force, came about, he explained.

Of course it was an effort that could not be sustained, Brown adds, but at the time we made our point and it did result in some positive changes.

Kitchen Sink award

Kitchen Sink award

Vandivort presented Brown with “The Kitchen Sink Award” an actual kitchen sink that he purchased from a home design outlet, reasoning that the Lake Highlands rapist manhunt and capture of the suspect was another “throw everything including the kitchen sink” effort.

It got a good laugh.

And then, out of the blue, a Chubby’s customer named Paul Chapman walked up to the table, stopping the guys mid-story. He said that he wanted to show the officers his appreciation. He dropped two hundred-dollar bills beside Brown’s plate of eggs and said that years ago his son was killed. “You guys captured his killer. I want to show you how much I appreciate it.” Each officer stood and thanked the man. Several exchanged hugs with him.

When he walked away, there was a few seconds of silent contemplation before someone said, “That just happened. Wow.” Which were pretty much my thoughts too.

Paul Chapman thanked police

Paul Chapman thanked police

Back to the manhunt: One officer who worked on the rapist case noted that it was the most dramatic work with which he’d ever been involved. Surely the FBI will look at this case — the guy was a study in the progression of a sexual predator. He added that the strengthening of the police force and the community as a whole over the past several years made them successful in catching the suspect.

“We sleep better at night because this community can sleep better at night, the officer said.”Fifteen years ago we could not have worked together as a department like this. There was a time when we did not have the mentality, where a weak link could pull down an operation like that. But this time all the links worked together.”

Officers talk a little about the rapist manhunt

Officers talk a little about the rapist manhunt

Chief Brown told the group that it was when “that group gathered and started praying [he] knew that this rapist had a short window before he got caught.”

Whether the prayer itself or the act of solidarity and determination gave him this feeling, I can’t be sure, but everyone seemed to understand what he meant.

Breaking bread

Breaking bread

Deputy Chief Andrew Acord, a former narcotics officer who entered the northeast division in the midst of the serial rape investigation, says he has been impressed not only by the great police work that he has seen, but also by the character of the Lake Highlands people. And the amount of appreciation they have offered, since the takedown of the suspected rapist, has been overwhelming, he says.

Andrew Acord

Andrew Acord

Civilians in attendance included former District 10 councilman Bill Blaydes, former Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association president and current Housing board member Steve Wakefield, and Ted and Ray Hill, all of whom have made a contribution to crime reduction in our neighborhood.

Bill Blaydes, Chief David Brown, Steve Wakefield

Bill Blaydes, Chief David Brown, Steve Wakefield

The $200, by the way, was divvied up among the waitstaff at Chubby’s.