Peace, Love & Understanding

I’m quite sure you don’t want to read another thing about the coronavirus.

And so, this column is not about Covid-19, but about the capabilities and vulnerabilities of our local community.

Despite the hasty and immediate resignation of Fire Chief Neal DeJesus last week, our Fire Rescue department is top-notch as evidenced by its recent accreditation and by the stellar service we see every single day of the year, 24/7.

It’s during times like this when you appreciate the high quality of our front line public safety professionals. You appreciate the training, the educational requirements, the tough hiring process and the culture of caring that has been nurtured for decades and carries into the present despite some upheaval at the upper ranks.

Same with our police department, which I’ve noted on many occasions, are the unsung heroes of Delray’s revitalization and the guarantor of our future success. You cannot have a future without a sense of security. People won’t live here, invest here, open for business or raise their families in a place where they don’t feel safe. So while we have our fair share of problems, the men and women who protect and serve us are more than capable and for that we can be grateful.

As a result, I will always support policies that ensure that we can field the best possible public safety departments. We must continue to invest in talent, equipment and training. It’s worth it–especially in times like these. But in less stressful times as well. When you dial 911, you want to be assured that the very best are showing up at your door within a few minutes.

I also think we are fortunate to be in a community with several outstanding hospitals—Delray Medical Center, Bethesda, Boca Regional and West Boca Medical Center—all have their strengths.

I can speak personally about Delray Medical having served 7 years on the hospital’s governing board.

Each meeting was a mini-education on the medical needs and capacity of our community as we did our best to support the efforts of the hundreds of professionals who handle everything from Class 1 trauma’s to appendectomies.

I think of rural areas that are under served by doctors, nurses and specialists and I think of how fortunate we are to live in a community with an abundance of medical and scientific talent.

By no means am I underplaying this pandemic. It is serious and potentially deadly—especially for the vulnerable in our community of which there are many.

But I do think it is helpful to understand and appreciate that we live in a community reasonably well-equipped to handle what’s thrown at us.

I joked to my wife that we live half the year in terror—fearful of monster hurricanes for months on end and what it might do to our lives and livelihoods.

Now, because of a Wuhan market filled with strange meats, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Delray is cancelled along with most other things we’ve come to enjoy and rely on to fuel our economy. I know it’s not as simple as that, but whether we like it or not, we are intertwined with the rest of the world and with each other.

Sometimes that can be really good (cheap goods, trade, foreign investment) and sometimes it can bite us.

As this crisis unfolds, please look after your neighbors and yourself. Also please keep in mind our local businesses. They are sure to be taking a whack from this situation. They will need our support going forward.

So will our front line city employees, first- responders and health workers who will tasked with so much in the coming days, weeks and possibly months.

Last week, my friend went to Publix and saw a cashier abused and insulted because the store was out of toilet paper and soap. He made sure to compliment the employee and thank her for her service.

We are all stressed. It’s important that we maintain our compassion.

Thinking of you all during this difficult time.

 

Unsung But Never Forgotten

Delray PD “Tactical Team” circa 1990. Sgt. Don West, future Chief Jeff Goldman, Officer Phil Dorfman, Sgt. Toby Rubin and Lt. Allan Thompson.

It’s hard to believe that’s been almost 18 years since 9/11.

Children have been born and have reached adulthood since that tragic day.

So much of our daily lives have changed that I have a feeling we don’t even realize just how much life is different as a result.

I saw a stat the other day that struck me.

Deaths from 9/11 related illnesses will soon pass those lost on the day of the attack.

They are dying of cancer and other 9/11 related disorders as we were reminded during recent Congressional testimony that finally led to more funding for victims and first responders.

That reminder was made personal recently when I dropped by a Delray Beach family reunion of a retired firefighter who lost a sister in law on 9/11 and has watched his brother fight cancer as a result of being near the site of the attack in lower Manhattan.

Families are continuing to suffer emotionally and physically. Some nightmares never quite end and that’s sobering. Those who devote their lives to public safety know that in their bones, but they sign up for that life anyway.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for public safety professionals—police officers, firefighters, paramedics and those who serve on our beach patrol. It seems that a lot of people gripe about pensions and benefits and there is no doubt that public safety is an expensive proposition. I would suspect that it will get more so as our society deals with challenges ranging from active shooters and opioid addicts to mental illness and extreme weather events.

But for those who complain about the cost, imagine how expensive it would be without it.

In Delray Beach, police and fire are half of your city budget—at least that’s what it used to be and I suspect that’s still true.

But I have always believed that the unsung heroes of Delray have been the men and women who have served on police and fire rescue departments.

There would be no downtown without them because we would not have been able to attract investment had we remained an unsafe city, which we were for a period of time back in the day before two generations of police officers and firefighters came to work every day and turned things around.

How bad was it?

Well in the 80s, they were pelted with rocks and bottles after responding to fights outside of bars on West Atlantic Avenue, the gateway to our city. Some neighborhoods were so hostile to police officers that I once saw the severed heads of pigs impaled on street signs as a warning for law enforcement to stay away. They didn’t—they just persisted. Thank goodness these officers did. Because they saved Delray Beach.

 

I was privileged at the time to do frequent “ride alongs” and saw some amazing officers do their best to disrupt street level drug sales. Entire parts of Delray Beach were open air drug markets with cars coming in off the Interstate to buy crack cocaine from dealers who used  little children as look-outs at all hours of the night.

I remember, as a young reporter, interviewing then Chief Rick Overman who promised to chase the dealers off the avenue. He predicted that the drug sales would first migrate into the neighborhoods where it would be more difficult to track but he asked for more resources and for the community to be both patient and to play a role in helping make their neighborhoods safer.

MAD DADS was formed and groups of men— most from the neighborhood but a few volunteers from other parts of the city—would confront dealers on the street corners and ask them to stop selling the drugs that hurt so many people and kept residents inside their homes quaking with fear.

Police and fire were partners in that effort and other efforts to make Delray Beach a safer community, one where it would be possible to build something of value.

Over the years I became close with many of the men and women who served. I looked up to them. I admired their dedication, commitment and bravery. They taught me so much.

It’s important to mention them because cities have these unsung heroes and heroines that often get lost. But if they didn’t exist, places such as Delray would be a whole lot different.

My list is a long one and this is by no means complete but let’s just say Delray would have been vastly different and I believe worse off if people such as Adam Rosenthal, Vinnie Mintus, Jim Tabeek, Rich Murphy, Chief Overman, Chief Kerry Koen, Johnny Pun, Fred Glass, Robert Stevens, Toby Rubin, Mike Swigert, Brian Bollan, Dwayne Fernandes, Craig Hartmann, John Battiloro, Mike Wise,  John Palermo, Wayne Yoder, Russ Accardi, Mike Wigderson, John Tomaszewski, Eddie Robinson, Tom Whatley, Paul Shersty, Tom Quinlan, Chuck Jeroloman, John Evans and many others went to work elsewhere or if we failed to remain competitive and let them go elsewhere.

I wish there was a way to formally honor these unsung heroes—people who went the extra mile, accomplished the nearly impossible and made a true and lasting difference.

If you want a special village—you need to create an environment in which people can flourish and reach their potential.

Like everything, it begins and ends with leadership that empowers, encourages and builds trust and relationships. From those essential elements you get accountability and performance. Innovation occurs and excellence flourishes in an environment where people feel safe to grow and are motivated to achieve.

It’s magical when it happens.

We were lucky to see it, but even if we came later, we are here because of the work of these unsung men and women. I hope and trust we will never forget that.

 

 

 

What A Good Officer Can Mean

Officer Skip Brown and Chief Rick Overman celebrate Rambo’s retirement. Rambo was a legendary K-9.

The Delray Newspaper broke a story last month that reminded me how much a dedicated police officer can mean to a community and to someone in need lucky enough to bump into the right cop at the right time.

In November of 1995, Officers Skip Brown, Dan Grose and Rosetta Newbold were on patrol when they responded to a call in a drug and crime riddled trailer park. In a rancid trailer that defied description they found two small children, ages 7 and 8, who were dirty, hungry and scared.

The two, a brother and sister, had roaches crawling on their faces and in their hair. When Skip carried the little girl to safety, she clung tightly to his neck. He promised her she would be OK. And he meant it.

Skip is that kind of guy.

I know that from personal experience which is why I cherish him and his wife Cheryl.

Skip took the boy and girl back to the Police Department and comforted them as best he could. The little girl would never forget his kindness.

Eventually state child welfare authorities intervened and the children ended up in foster care. Skip never forgot about the children and frequently wondered where they were and if they were Ok.

The little girl spent years searching for the kind hearted officer. But police officers can be hard to find and there are many Skip Brown’s in this world. (But none like our Skip Brown).

Then recently, she caught a break.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that about a year or so ago, Skip—now happily retired in Alabama— came home to receive a much deserved and long overdue Bronze Star for his heroic service in Vietnam.

He chose Old School Square as the venue to receive his medal and he chose me to pin the star on his chest. It was the biggest honor of my life. We are close friends and Skip has been an older brother to me—which means he can be tough on you but you also know that he’d jump in front of a train to save you from being run over. I would do the same for him.

The publicity around the Bronze Star ceremony prompted a story in an Alabama magazine and that led to a discovery….the little girl…saved in 1995 and now an adult… wrote to the magazine’s editor with a request.

Could she be put in touch with the man who showed her such a big heart all those years ago?
The editor reached out to Skip and a reunion via email and phone ensued. It’s a heartwarming story and our Associate editor Marisa Herman did a remarkable job writing about the saga.

Here’s the link: https://delraynewspaper.com/former-delray-police-officer-reconnects-with-girl-he-rescued-24-years-ago-27572

Please read the story and share it. It’s a heartwarming saga in a world that needs to see more of these kind of stories.

But this column is about my friend and brother Skip.

By all accounts, we are an odd couple. I’m moderate/liberal, he’s conservative. I’m 5’9”, he’s well over 6 feet. I’m a New Yorker, he’s from Ohio. I’m young (wink)…he’s…OK we’ll stop there.

Yet our friendship has always worked.

Which shows you that surface differences really don’t matter. What matters is what’s in your heart and what you really care about. On that measure, we have just about everything in common.

Skip has a heart for people in distress and animals, especially dogs but also birds, cats and just about anything that crawls. I do too.

Skip cares about community. We bonded over our mutual love for Delray and our rock solid commitment to try and make this a better place for everyone, young, old, black, white, east, west you name it.

Skip made a big difference in his 20 years of service. He started as a cop in a vastly different Delray Beach—working the road, serving as a K-9 officer, staffing midnight shifts where gunfire and violent crime happened every night.

We spent many of those nights talking late into the wee hours on my driveway at the end of his shift about Delray, great dogs and life itself.

Over time, like the layers of an onion, he revealed much about himself and his experiences—the heartaches, what  combat is like, the stresses of being a police officer and the ability to make an impact in some instances while other times you are just helpless and watch as your heart breaks over some situation—whether it’s an elderly volunteer succumbing to cancer, the loss of my mother, the loss of Skip’s brother, the nastiness of politics and the plight of a little girl and her brother living in a squalid trailer.

When Jerrod Miller was shot, 14 years ago this month, Skip was there as we worked to try and keep our city from falling apart in the wake of tragedy.

These experiences bond you—as brothers. They forge you and make you stronger even though you are never quite the same and the scars accumulate.

We’ve been there for each other through the loss of loved ones, the loss of great dogs (Rambo, Olk, Magnum, Casey), moves, career changes, divorce, illness and all the changes that come with time.

He has always had my back and I love him for that and for always having the backs of everyone in his life.

On the side of most police cruisers in America is the saying “protect and serve.”
For the best officers, the ones who make a real and lasting difference, those words are more than a tagline they are a bedrock philosophy and a way of life.

Even when they retire, the best officers continue to protect and serve—their family, friends and neighborhoods. My friend is one of those special people and I just needed to share that with you.

 

 

Safety Is Always Priority #1

Everything flows from a sense of safety.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were walking the dogs in our neighborhood.

It was a nice evening and we thought an after work walk would be a good time to get some exercise and catch up.

On our way back, we heard what sounded like firecrackers from across Lake Ida Road.

My wife lamented that it was late in the year for fireworks and I told her it sounded more like gunshots to me.

A day or two later, I read in the paper that what we had heard was indeed gunfire—the latest skirmish in what police are calling a feud between two local families.

In this particular incident, nobody was shot. But a bullet did strike S.D. Spady Elementary School.

Earlier this week, Spady was put on lockdown when more gunfire erupted in the neighborhood.

I’ve been told by some friends in the know that this issue is not as simple as two families going after each other. The feud has escalated to friends and associates making it hard for the police to deal with the situation. As someone recently told me: “you can’t put on a net on this thing.”

As a believer in the Second Amendment, but someone who also believes in reasonable gun control, it’s tempting to write an anti-gun screed and I wouldn’t be totally out of line if I did so. To be clear, I believe in the right to bear arms, but I don’t think you should be able to carry a bazooka, I think bump stocks should be banned and if you are an upright citizen you shouldn’t be troubled by a background check.

Will the crooks and the crazies still find loopholes and ways to get weapons?

Yep.

Do we have to make it easy for them?

No.

Still, while I think America has a gun violence problem—we are also suffering acutely from a people problem too.

There as some people in our society who do not value our lives or theirs and heaven forbid you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So yes, you could be out walking your dog and be struck down by a stray bullet or you can be a child walking around your elementary school and catch a round.

That these outcomes are even remotely possible is a stark reminder that we have some serious issues to contend with.

The first order of business in any community is public safety.

It is without a doubt the most important responsibility of a local government.

So when I see these headlines, my heart goes out to the men and women in our Police and Fire Departments.

Our first responders have a huge responsibility and a very, very difficult job.

For many years, I had the privilege of “riding along” with our public safety personnel. I’ve always felt that we had a great Police Department and a very capable Fire Rescue operation. When you ride along with officers and firefighters, even for the briefest amount of time, you gain a deep appreciation for the challenges they face and the complexity that they deal with call after call, day after day, year after year.

I’ve long felt and have always contended that our Police Department were the unsung heroes of Delray because their hard work and effectiveness made it safe for people to invest here—to live, work and play in our community.

Our Fire Department which has always been so busy and so professional also gives us peace of mind that if something should happen they will be there within minutes to protect our lives and our property.

But headlines like we’ve seen lately are disturbing….deeply disturbing. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t have much.

When you love your city you take these things personally. These headlines leave you with a visceral reaction. This is where we live and if we are unlucky it’s where we can also die or be injured.

What’s happening is more than a wake up call: it’s an existential threat.

We can however, take comfort in the skills of the men and women of our Police Department. This may not be easy to throw a net over, but I have faith that we will find a way to end this nonsense.

 

Things We Loved In August: From Birthdays to Penne Pasta

Lt. Bobby Keating retired after a long and distinguished career at the Delray PD.

Things we liked August

Seeing Delray’s Coco Gauff  in the pages of Sports Illustrated which celebrated her becoming the youngest number one junior in the world at age 14.
The article also noted Coco’s desire to follow in Serena Williams’s footsteps and noted that both played at Delray’s Pompey Park.

Speaking of tennis..Delray Open champ Frances Tiafoe was also featured in SI as one of four future greats who may take the mantle from Federer, Nadal and company. Good to see. Tiafoe is coming back to Delray in 2019. The tournament is becoming known as the birth place of future stars.

The penne ala vodka at Domus in Boca Raton.

Happy hour at Che’

An amazing dinner at Apeiro with good friends at the Delray Marketplace.

A great article on Fifth Avenue Grill by one of my favorite writers Diane Feen in one my favorite paper the Delray Newspaper.

Catching up with my friend Yulia @ The Corner Porch.

Checking out the sea turtle hatchlings at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Seeing the magnificent documentary Three Identical Strangers at The Living Room Theatre.

Seeing Celsius on the shelf at Fresh Market.

Great to see Ethel Isaacs Williams | Senior Vice President, Development & Public Affairs, Kaufman Lynn Construction, in  Delray Beach chosen for Leadership Florida Class 37. As a proud member of Class 24, I can speak with confidence that Ethel is in for a great experience. Congratulations.

Meeting Alex Redfearn the bright new owner of CityWalk. That was a project I was thrilled to support back in the day. It transformed a key corner in Pineapple Grove and gave us Brule’ one of my favorite spots. Alex will do great things.

Thanks to Francis and his wonderful staff at La Cigale for hosting my birthday dinner. Thanks to Kim Thomas for sharing her special birthday with me and for including me in her formal party at the wonderful Pinball Museum.

What can we say about Jimmy Christe? Just a wonderful guy, who served his nation as a Navy diver (underwater demolition expert) and quietly served his city as one half of a fundraising team with our friend Chuck Halberg. The duo rode thousands of miles together on motorcycles raising money for local charities. We lost Jimmy (far too soon) in August. But we will never lose his memory. Rest easy my friend.
We also mourn the losses of Kevin McCarty, Alan Armour and Col. Bill Condry.
Kevin served on our CRA and chaired the South Florida Water Management District board among other civic endeavors .
Alan chaired Old School Square and was instrumental in securing the funding for the pavilion we all enjoy.
Colonel Condry was a dear man. After serving his country he served his city supervising Pompey Park, mentoring key city staff and always providing stellar leadership through the years.

Congratulations on a job well done to Lt. Bobby Keating who retired after 24 years of service to our police department. Just a great officer. He will be missed.

Congrats to Jeff Goldman on his new position as Assistant City Manager after a successful stint as Delray police chief.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jeff since he was a very young police officer where he was generous enough to allow me to ride along when he was on the tact team which was tasked with cleaning up street level drug sales which were rampant in those days. Men and women like Jeff and Lt. Keating did much to enable Delray’s success. They deserve our thanks and gratitude.

Congratulations also to the great Patty Reed for her many years of service to our Chamber of Commerce. Patty always made you feel special and was such an integral part to making the Delray Chamber a warm and inviting organization.

Happy birthday to Pam Halberg. Another local star and lovely person. Chuck is a lucky man. And he knows it, which means he’s also a smart man.

Happy 90th birthday to Virginia Schmidt, mother of Mayor David Schmidt. We were honored to be on hand to celebrate the milestone at the Elks Club.

Last but most certainly not least, my wife Diane celebrated a birthday in August. She makes every day feel like my birthday.

13 Years

Jerrod Miller

Thirteen years ago today, Jerrod Miller, 16, was shot and killed outside of the Delray Full Service Center by a rookie Delray Beach police officer.

Jerrod was killed exactly 7 years to the day before Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida sparking a national conversation that still boils.

In the ensuing years, we’ve read about Freddie Gray, Ferguson, Missouri and a whole slew of incidents that have engulfed young men of color, police departments, communities, schools and our nation’s soul.

I’m not sure how many people are thinking of Jerrod Miller today in Delray Beach where we seem to be focused on gutter politics and whether this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a 50 year tradition will be the last because of a few myopic elected officials who don’t understand what it means to be a steward.

All of those things are important—who serves in office and whether community traditions continue or are shooed way.

But they also pale when viewed through the prism of a basic question; whether we are a good place for children and families to live.

Jerrod was my daughter’s age in 2005. I think of that often, every time I see my first born and marvel at the young woman she has become. She’s a teacher now, but back then she was a student at Atlantic High School and the kids were shaken about what happened the night Jerrod was shot. Samantha was given the opportunity to grow up, go to college and launch a career. Jerrod didn’t have that opportunity. And I think about him all the time.

For 13 years, I have had recurring dreams about a young man I never knew in life. I saw him only once—in a casket, at his funeral—at an 7th Day Adventist Church in our northwest neighborhood. I met and admired his pastor. I knew his father—not the biological opportunist who showed up after the shooting, but the man who Jerrod knew as his dad.  And I met his grandmother who sat quietly with us in a  room at Old School Square during our race relations workshops.

Ironically, I was at Mar-a-Lago, at a charity fundraiser the night of the shooting. I had no clue that life would change for so many with a middle of the night phone call that informed me of the news.

When police shootings occur, a dynamic occurs—a vortex of media, lawyers, union reps, police investigators, prosecutors, media, activists, hate mail, threats, anger, anxiety and crushing sadness.

Absolutely crushing sadness.

As a mayor, you become isolated—from your colleagues on the commission and from everyone really. It’s a lonely place and there is no playbook to reference.

I think of that lonely place when I see things happen—in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and yes Parkland because I know there’s hurting families, anxious policymakers and sad police officers.

In my case, I was walled off from the officer because of the investigation but I felt for him and his family. I tried not to pass judgment, I tried to think of him as a 23 year-old man. And when my son hit that age, I realized just how young that is. Jerrod was shot while allegedly driving erratically near a school dance. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

I’ve always been a fan of the Delray Beach Police Department and public safety professionals in general. I rode with them as a young reporter, got to know them as people and marveled at the complexity of their jobs and how well they performed. There is no Delray Beach as we know it, without their stellar work. They made it safe to live, work and play here but that challenge is ongoing and we must strive to be the kind of city that protects those who protect and serve us. So when the narrative emerged after the shooting of a rogue police department, I knew from personal experience that it wasn’t true. Of course, there was a fraught history–and that matters. Like America itself, Delray has struggled with race. But we were hard at work on the issue. We may have been imperfect, slow at times, blind to things but there were sincere efforts in our city to bridge the divide–to talk, engage and work together. Bridges had been built, relationships had formed and they were real and we would rely on them in the tough days ahead.

I also felt deeply for the family, friends and teachers who were shocked by the shooting.

We were isolated from the family as a result of the investigation, the inevitable litigation and other factors including an inquest, a rare event that was ordered in the case. I did spend time with several of Jerrod’s teachers who came to see me racked with emotion. We also spent a lot of time in the community answering questions, listening and praying.

But all during this time I was also thinking about another young man—Sherrod, Jerrod’s twin brother.

I asked  officers and community members for any information on him. I was told he was devastated and angry. Who could fault him. I’m sure there was confusion too.

I never did get to connect with Sherrod at the time. But I never stopped thinking about him.

I was saddened to read newspaper headlines a few years later detailing trouble that he had found.

He ended up doing time.

But a few years ago, he re-emerged. I got a call from an officer/friend who said Sherrod wanted to meet me and a few other  police officers including the chief. He wanted to see us. He had something to say.

And so we met, quietly in an office at City Hall. I was nervous about the meeting but anxious to see him too.

I’ve never written about this part of the story before but it’s important to share.

When Sherrod walked in the first thing you noticed was his size—6’5” and strong.

He was heavily tattooed and clearly someone who had seen a lot in his short life.  And yet there was something about him too that I just can’t describe–maybe the word is vulnerable.

When he saw us, the emotions were raw. He shook hands with all of us but it quickly fell into an embrace and a few tears.

It was very powerful.

For all of us.

Seasoned police officers who have seen it all and then some. Officers who had been called to the scene 13 years ago and were  very moved by what they saw.

We talked and talked some more. A lot poured out. Prison. Anger. Anger at Delray police. The searing pain of losing a brother. A twin; someone who feels a part of you. And a realization that the cycle has to stop. If at all possible, the anger had to be let go. Sherrod wanted to apologize to us, for things he had said and done. We told him it was OK and not necessary. We just wanted him to live a decent life. We were sorry that we didn’t help him and he needed a lot of help.

We vowed to help Sherrod get started again.  And we did. A job. Support. Advice.

I’d like to say that we all grew close. For awhile we texted, his preferred method of communication– with me anyway. Then the texts bounced back. His number must have changed.

And we lost touch.

He got arrested again. You can look up the details.

I keep tabs via the Internet.

On this, a sad anniversary, I pray he finds peace. I pray we all do.

I share these stories on the anniversary because I believe that it’s important that others know what happened on Feb. 26, 2005 in the village by the sea.

At the time, many felt Delray would never be the same. That’s how big this was. But I find we move on, maybe not the families, maybe not the direct participants, but society moves on.

There have been other violent deaths in Delray since. There have been young people gunned down by other young people right here in our community. And life goes on, as I suppose it should and must.

But my hope is that with every loss we would learn something that makes us better people and a better, closer community.

Until that happens, we will continue to fray–inch by inch– until  eventually we break.

 

 

A Bright Light in a Dim Crisis

Detective Nicole Lucas speaking at a recent Delray Chamber meeting.

Detective Nicole Lucas is impressive.

As soon as she begins to speak, you just can’t help but be drawn into her story.

She is the detective working with a task force dealing with sober homes and the terrible addiction issues plaguing Delray Beach. Of course, Delray Beach is not alone. Addiction—particularly to opioids—is a national scourge claiming more lives last year than the Vietnam War, a whopping 59,000 people.

It’s a stunning number and Delray Beach is in the throes of the crisis, along with many, many cities nationwide.

When Det. Lucas spoke at the Chamber recently she reported that there have been 340 overdoses this year in Delray. By the time this is published that number is sure to have increased.

There were 76 overdoses in May. Every month, that number is increasing. Young police officers and paramedics are seeing more death in one year than veterans have in their entire careers. The emotional toll cannot be quantified, but it also can’t be ignored or denied.

What impressed us the most about Det. Lucas was that she struck the exact right tone on what can be an emotional issue. She combines empathy for those addicted and their families with toughness toward those who exploit people caught in the vice grip of addiction. She also shows great regard for the men and women saving lives–the responsible operators who are providing a needed service in our community.

“We all know someone touched by addiction,” she told a capacity crowd at the Chamber. “It’s not a small, hidden corner of the world anymore, it’s an epidemic.”

She praised the responsible operators, the men and women who dedicate their lives to trying to save people from the destruction and damage of addiction. There were no broad brushes, no sweeping indictments of the industry, just sober analysis of the situation and a mature view of what needs to be done to save lives and communities.

Our Police Department, our Drug Task Force and our State Attorney’s Office are on the cutting edge of the issue. We were one of the first cities to deploy Narcan, which reverses overdoses, the Police Department is hiring a clinical social worker and we are leaders on the Sober Homes Task Force.

Already, Det. Lucas and her team have shut down scores of sober homes and the word is out that irresponsible operators will be arrested and prosecuted. It’s a slow and laborious task, but the experts in Delray— including veteran providers and responsible operators –say that they are seeing many of the bad guys pack up shop and leave for other locales. Still, nobody is declaring victory and the body count continues to rise.

The opiates are becoming more lethal, the addictions harder to break.

“They are fighting demons most of us will never understand,” said Lucas. “There are tons of good sober homes and treatment centers but we have to get rid of the bad ones, the ones who abuse people.”
Det. Lucas detailed cases where patients were brokered and monetized. Examples of abuse, paying addicts to take drugs so they can be paid for being delivered to detox; etc.

“We see attempts to beat these people down. ‘You are just a junkie, the police don’t care about you. Who will believe you?’ It’s abusive.”

Interestingly, social media has assisted Det. Lucas in her efforts to find bad operators. An active Facebook page has elicited tips and given her a window into the world of recovery. She guarantees anonymity while encouraging citizens to speak out if they witness unsavory practices.

But merely calling the Police to report a sober home is not enough; good operators have a role to play and are protected by federal law. But those who violate patient brokering laws are fair game to be arrested and shut down.

If you have any tips please call 1-844-324-5463.

 

A Fitting Tribute, a Bronze Star & The Arts

Random Thoughts on a Monday…

A Moving Tribute to a memorable officer

It was gratifying to see an overflow crowd at Officer Christine Braswell’s Memorial Service Sunday at Atlantic High School.

Officers from all over the area, Delray police retirees, residents and our own bravest and finest were there for a moving tribute to an Officer who touched many lives.

From Explorers who respected her as a drill instructor to SWAT team members who were in awe of her skills, Officer Braswell’s influence was palpable and lasting.

She connected with everyone. From homeless people who considered her a friend to business leaders who put out all the stops to honor her after her tragic passing April 9 at the too young age of 40.

Chief Jeff Goldman did a great job of leading the memorial and capturing Christine’s spirit and dedication to her job. It was also touching to hear from Christine’s father– a former officer– who recounted his daughter’s toughness and resolve to be a police officer despite his concerns over the physical and mental toll of the job.

Delray Citizens for Delray Police once again rose to the occasion coordinating volunteers and donations to make this difficult time just a little easier.

I thought I’d share a portion of a prayer from a memorial card handed out at the service.

“Lord I ask for courage

Courage to face and

Conquer my own fears…

Courage to take me

Where others will not go…

I ask for strength

Strength of body

To protect others…

I ask for dedication

Dedication to my job

to do it well.

Dedication to my community

To Keep it safe.”

Christine did all of those things for us and others. She will not be forgotten. May she rest in peace.

Bronze Star Ceremony You’re Invited
Tomorrow is a special day in Delray.
Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown and his lovely wife Cheryl, a former PD volunteer, will be at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square at 4 pm to receive a Bronze Star for heroism. The medal ceremony, open and free to the public, comes 45 years after Skip’s heroic service in Vietnam.
It’s a fascinating story. I won’t ruin it for you right now because I’m hoping your can come and see a rare ceremony.
Skip is a special guy. This is a special occasion. Hope to see you at the Crest.

Sons & Daughters Farm and Winery
We visited Sons & Daughters on Saturday west of Lake Worth and it was terrific.
Sons & Daughters is a 17 acre organic farm where you can drink homegrown wine and kombucha, tour the farm and interact with an array of animals from donkeys and pigs to chickens and roosters.
It’s worth a visit. Friday night’s feature music, food trucks and a fire pit. It’s a cool place.
And…I couldn’t help but think this is what the ag reserve could have been.
Working farms with retail attached, Agri-tourism amenities, healthy and unique places to hang out.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
I’m a believer in Eastward Ho..let your downtowns be downtowns tight, compact and walkable but out west..well let’s say it could have been done differently.

Wood and Fire
We gave this cool new place a whirl over the weekend and it was really good.
Delray’s own Castle Construction did the build out and it’s wonderful.
A nice interior, large bar, a wood fired oven, outdoor dining options and a nice menu with reasonable prices.
We had the veggie panini (guess who had that one) and a Margherita pizza with charred zucchini and meatballs.
There’s a good craft beer menu too.
It’s nice to see west Delray add some great gathering spots. The restaurant is on West Atlantic just west of Military Trail.
Check it out.

Speaking of craft beer
We visited Saltwater Brewery recently and chatted briefly with Chris Gove one of the young entrepreneurs behind the growing brand.
I’ve known Chris’ dad Leigh for years. And so it’s really great to see his son have his father’s creative energy and vision.
Saltwater is now distributed all the way to Jacksonville. It just feels like a breakout brand in a crowded space.
Not only is the beer terrific (try the Passion Pit) but the branding is spot on. The brewery is also oozing cool and very popular.
We ran into former Planning Director Paul Dorling and it was nice to catch up with him as well.
Delray needs more than one district that performs so it’s nice to see the nooks and crannies filling up with activity and cool uses.

Kudos to Old School Square
The new summer booklet of classes at Old School Square is out and once again it’s really well done.
The School of Creative Arts is a great asset to Delray and if you have any interest in art, writing or photography you should check it out.
I’m a big admirer of the arts and artists but have zero talent.
I might, however check out the Thursday night readings where writers share their work.

See, I have this idea for a novel about a dashing middle aged blogger who strikes it rich…it’s clearly fiction.

 

Magic Awaits When You Connect & Commit

When you connect you progress–it’s just that simple.

It’s the little things that make you fall in love.
Saturday we headed downtown for the CRA’s annual Easter Bonnet Pet Parade which never fails to deliver.
It’s a small event: simple, fun, charming and benefits a great cause–Dezzy’s Second Chance Rescue.
Norman Rockwell would have loved it.
It’s these types of gatherings that build community and make you fall for a place. And it’s these types of opportunities that we must seize, savor and support.
Peter Kageyama wrote a book about the intangibles called “For the Love of Cities.” I’ve seen Peter speak a few times and he never fails to deliver.
He talks about the importance of creating events, experiences and places that foster affection for your city.
In my book, “Adventures in Local Politics” I write that love is an important component of community building and leadership.
When people fall in love they commit. And when they commit they invest–their time, money, talent, creativity and passion.
And the rest takes care of itself.
Once people commit to a community, problems can be solved, challenges can be met and tragedies become easier to deal with.
Consequently, the good news is sweeter because there is a community of people to celebrate with.
These are not difficult or complex concepts but building community isn’t easy.
In case you haven’t noticed (and I bet you have) our society is divided these days. And Delray is not immune from those fault lines.
All the more reason why it’s important to come together when we can.
Recently, we’ve had a few opportunities. The Delray Affair, The Pet Parade, Impact 100, the upcoming Police Banquet sponsored by Delray Citizens for Delray Police and more.
There are many ways to connect. But only if we look. And I hope you do. Because it makes all the difference.
You’re needed and you’ll benefit by getting involved too.
Not a bad deal.
The best leaders connect. The best citizens too.
Here’s a free event that I hope you’ll think about coming to see.
On April 25 at 4 pm Old School Square’s Crest Theatre will host the awarding of a Bronze Star to retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown.
Skip spent 20 years as an officer in Delray and a great deal of that time was spent building community. He managed the Police Department’s volunteer program and specialized in reaching hard to reach segments of our city.
He was all about making a connection.
If you want a dose come to the Crest a week from Tuesday. The event is free–bring the kids. It’s a teachable moment and a chance to honor valor and bravery.
Meanwhile, find ways to get connected. It makes all the difference.

 

 

We Take Care of Those Who Take Care of Us

Remembering Officer Braswell

We’re fragile.
Everything can be taken away in a moment.
Those were the thoughts that entered my mind when Sgt. Gary Ferreri called me Saturday evening to tell me about injuries suffered by Officers Christine Braswell and Bernenda Marc.
An hour or so later, while we sat listening to beautiful music at the Parker Playhouse, the texts and messages began to pour in. Christine had passed.
I’ve had these calls and messages before. We all have and it doesn’t get easier. And in many ways they get harder, as if the tragedies pile on top of each other digging deeper into our hearts.
This weekend’s devastating news brought back painful memories of Sgt. Adam Rosenthal and Officer Johnny Pun also lost tragically in accidents at the height  of their careers. I also thought back to a call in 2001 when we learned that 23-year veteran firefighter Peter Firehock was killed three days before Christmas by a man who plowed his van into Pete while he was out for a bike ride. Police think the van driver believed Pete might have witnessed him dumping a body in a nearby field. The driver received 35 years for vehicular homicide. We lost a 48-year-old community servant who was renowned for his diving skills and was beloved by all. He was known as a “hero among heroes.” These people are simply irreplaceable.
Christine and Bernenda were reportedly hit by an impaired driver while riding a scooter in Key West. Officer Marc suffered serious injuries and we pray for her recovery. She’s only 25. Christine was only 41. She was a star performer at the Police Department serving on the SWAT team and as a member of the Honor Guard. She was beloved by her fellow officers and the community.
It’s in these moments that you see just how close our officers are to each other and to many of the people they protect and serve.
This is a closeness we ought to appreciate, savor and be thankful for. I’m not sure how common it is–especially during these fraught times in which most of the headlines detail friction and worse between citizens and police.
But our department is different. It’s been different for a long time.

We support our police and they support us. It’s helped to give us good times and saved our town in bad.

There’s not only a warmth between citizens and our police department–fire department too. There’s a genuine affection too that runs both ways.
That was apparent when news spread about Officer Braswell and Officer Marc. We saw it on social media with an outpouring of prayer, in emails and text messages with people trying hard to find information and asking how they could help.
We saw it when Johnny Pun passed and we saw it when we lost Adam Rosenthal.
For those of us who knew these officers the news over the weekend stung extra hard.
Johnny was a force of nature with an electric smile, a great sense of humor and a ton of ambition for the kids he wanted to save from a life of crime.

Johnny and his partner and close friend the recently retired Fred Glass, founded a charter school and we became the proud home of the first Police Department in Florida to do so.
Johnny was a dad and a mentor to many who lacked strong parental guidance. He spoke Creole and reached deep into a part of Delray that’s hard to reach. He can never be replaced.
He went to school on a weekend day and was killed in a motorcycle accident. And suddenly his energy and his smile were gone. It was stunning. It’s still stunning.
We lost Adam in a car accident as he headed into work. He was a RAD instructor teaching women how to defend themselves. He worked with kids teaching them martial arts and mentoring them and he was an able and smart union leader.
Losing him so suddenly was surreal. He seemed indestructible.
But none of us are.
Christine was young, strong, focused and earned many friendships all over Delray. She worked as a training officer and with our Police Explorers. She reached deep into neighborhoods and won hearts and minds with her personality and dedication to Delray Beach.
It’s hard to imagine that she’s gone.
Officer Marc is a brand new officer. She was seriously injured.
She will need our prayers, support and love. And she will get it.
Delray officers refer to each other as family. And they are.
But many in our community also consider our officers family. We take pride in their service. We rely on their bravery and expertise.
And we pray for their safety. We also mourn when they are lost or hurt.
Thanks Christine.
You will never be forgotten.
In this town, we remember those who serve and protect us.
We take care of our own.