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A thief, a kid and a miracle highlight officer’s year

By: David Wallace | Farmington Press | Published February 16, 2011


FARMINGTON HILLS — Last year, police officer Gary Lavin rescued a little girl from disappointment, caught a truck and trailer thief, and participated in what some might call a miracle as he talked to a woman who tried to kill herself.

Those are three highlights that explain why Lavin is the Farmington Hills Police Department’s Officer of the Year for 2010.

In the case of the little girl, Lavin responded to a trailer park where someone had stolen a bicycle belonging to the park manager’s granddaughter. The manager had her suspicions about who might have done it, and Lavin set out looking for the bike, which he never found.

Lavin said the grandmother talked about how long it took to save for the bicycle and how disappointing the theft was for the 10-year-old girl.

Lavin knows a man in Farmington Hills who refinishes furniture and who buys and fixes up bicycles, so he asked the man if he had a bike available, and the man at first wanted to donate it. But Lavin didn’t feel that was right, so he paid half the bike’s cost, with the other half a gift to the girl from the man who refurbished the bike.

“He really exemplifies the kind of compassion that our officers have,” Farmington Hills Police Chief Chuck Nebus said of Lavin.

As for the truck and trailer thief, Lavin sat in his patrol car late one night, ready to respond to a call for help. He heard a noise and saw a pickup truck and trailer stuck in a ditch.

The pickup truck driver took off on foot, and Lavin, a 16-year department veteran, chased him.

“I’m slow and old, but he was slower and older,” Lavin said.

He said the culprit essentially gave up and quit fleeing. Police determined that the suspect had stolen the tool trailer from a business near Grand River and Middlebelt, and the truck from another nearby business.

As for the story with a miraculous, or extremely lucky, twist, Lavin was among the police officers dispatched to some apartments for a possibly suicidal woman who had left some notes and taken a gun with her.

Lavin tried calling the woman and sending her text messages. Eventually, he managed to get the woman to call him. He had three or four conversations with her during which she would get upset, hang up and call back.

He learned that she was driving near Northwestern Highway and Middlebelt, so he waited at Northwestern and Inkster, and pulled behind her. He said she was upset when he told her on the phone that he was right behind her.

He and other police officers followed the woman to I-696 and Evergreen, and ultimately convinced her to stop and throw the gun out the window.

After police retrieved the gun, they realized the woman had tried to shoot herself.

“The round in the gun was just a bad bullet,” Lavin said. He said the hammer hit the primer, but it never fired.

“That one was actually physically draining,” he said. Strangely enough, he didn’t feel physically drained until after the ordeal ended.

“As it’s going on — I guess you just say it’s our training,” Lavin said.

“His dedication just to the department and to residents and to hard work really always shows,” Nebus said.

Lavin said he had no real direction in college, but 20 years ago his cousin — who took a medical retirement from the Royal Oak Police Department a year ago — would talk about what a great job he had, and Lavin said that influenced him to look at policing as a career.

Currently, Lavin works daytime hours, which he likes because it gives his life more normalcy than working late at night.

“It’s a completely different game during the day. You’re more reactive than proactive,” he said, meaning that calls for help during the day are more often to respond to after-the-fact situations than those at night.

Lavin finished his basement a few years ago and bought a shadowbox to display some of his police items, including his Officer of the Year Award and another Officer of the Year award he received from a veterans group in 2003.

“My wife is allowing me to hang them on the wall in the basement,” he said.