Connections Make or Break Communities

This column is devoted to volunteers and the Delray Beach Police Department.
We are lucky to have both.
A generation ago, in a city that seems far, far away from the Delray of today, the Police Department made voluntarism a major objective.
It changed everything.
Back in the 80s, the perception of the PD might have been the biggest issue in town.
That changed with the advent of “community policing” a philosophy that sought to engage the community in crime fighting by asking officers to get out of their patrol cars and get to know the neighborhoods. In turn, residents and business owners also had a role. They were asked to work with the department. Public safety is best achieved in partnership. When there is trust, communication, honesty, collaboration and relationships progress is virtually guaranteed. When those elements are missing you are inviting trouble.

So this story is about two people who embody both sides of the coin.
One was a volunteer and the other is a sworn officer and a real good one at that.
Charles Goldberg died Jan. 14.  He was in his 90s, had moved out of Delray to be near his children but I kept in touch with him on Facebook.
I will tell you that keeping in touch with wonderful people across the years and miles is a lot better use of social media than whining about petty local politics.
But I digress.
I absolutely adored Charlie.
So did everyone.
He always had a smile. He always had a kind word. He was a lovely, kind and happy man.
And he was wired to volunteer.
There really is a  lot of truth to the notion of a “greatest generation.”
After 9/11–after it was discovered that many of the terrorists were living in Delray we were frightened. Next door in Boca, there was anthrax. It was a remarkably tense time.
Officer Skip Brown, our volunteer coordinator at the time, came up with a brilliant idea. Let’s protect the Homefront by creating a force that would patrol sensitive and valuable public assets like the water plant, City Hall, the library and other potential targets.
Many, if not most of the Homefront security patrol were World War II veterans. Skip designed sharp uniforms with berets and provided training.
Charlie was an instant volunteer and an instant star.
For years he patrolled–serving as eyes and ears with other wonderful volunteers.
When I was elected mayor he would visit me in my office on the second floor of City Hall and he always greeted me with a smile, a kind word and a promise: “I have your back young man. Don’t worry about a thing.”
And so he did.
There are smiles and then there are smiles. And friends, Charlie’s smile belonged in the Hall of Fame.
Thinking of him will always make me smile–and knowing that I won’t see that smile on Facebook anymore brought a tear to my eye as I wrote this.
I adored him.
More importantly, he adored us. And he served us. Very very well.

It was gratifying to see the volunteer tradition continue this week as I saw Scott Westall recognized for his tireless efforts. Scott is a terrific guy (and his wife is pretty terrific too). It makes you proud to live here.

Which brings me to my friend Gary Ferreri.
I had the privilege to attend the PD’s quarterly awards ceremony this week which featured an array of awards and promotions and even recognition of two newly sworn officers.
I wish these ceremonies were televised because they’re great. And taxpayers would benefit by seeing and hearing about their officers.
Among the awards given were lifesaving recognition to officers who helped save a woman who stabbed herself multiple times in the neck and chest and an officer who jumped into Lake Ida to save a face down motionless 81 year old man who fell in and almost drowned while fishing. All in a day’s work…
We saw a deserving John Crane-Baker promoted to captain and then watched as Detective Ferreri was promoted to sergeant in front of many many adoring friends, family and fans.
Gary is a good guy. I’ve been watching him for a while now and I’m impressed.
He’s a natural leader, smart, dedicated and devoted to the community, his department and his fellow officers.
I enjoy watching promising leaders grow and it’s gratifying to see someone you believe make a difference and be rewarded.
When I think of the best officers I have known over the years, they come in a variety of styles. There’s tough and gruff with a big heart, there’s smart and strategic and there’s in between.
But what they all have in common is authenticity. They aren’t fake. They are passionate about their work and the communities they serve.
Gary has passion in abundance.  For his job, for his community, for his fellow officers.
He has a feel for people which is why he connects to the community and why so many came to see him get his sergeants stripes.
Connection. That’s what it’s about.
Relationships, trust, respect, communication and consideration.
As Maya Angelou once said: long after they’ve forgotten what you’ve done, they’ll remember how you made them feel.
Gary knows how to connect. And that’s why he will enjoy an impactful career.
He’s real. And that’s everything.

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