Lee Gavin had known for 18 months when his final day as the Dearborn Heights police chief would be, but that didn’t make things any easier when the time came.
Gavin, 59, spent 38 years with the department, including the last 10 and a half as the city’s top cop.
Because he was participating in the DROP, or Deferred Retirement Option Plan, he’s known for 18 months that his career in law enforcement was ending. The program allowed the city to save money by moving health care and other benefits to the retirement system while he stayed on the job, but also gave him a set time to leave. Gavin said the program allowed the department to keep its top officers in order to train the next generation of leaders before they all left.
Gavin, a Crestwood High School graduate, started as a police cadet in 1980. “I was going to Henry Ford for college and saw the application for a cadet,” he said. “I had no family or friends in law enforcement at the time, but I got hired anyway.” A cadet at the time was not a sworn officer, but was able to do many aspects of the job that a police officer did. “We answered phones, helped with prisoners, did some dispatch, a little bit of everything,” Gavin said. Based on that, he enjoyed the job, and the city liked his work ethic, so he was sent to the police academy in Detroit. Following his time at the academy, he was hired as a full-time officer in 1982.
“My first major run was a homicide,” Gavin said. “We went in and the man was gagged to death on the floor in the basement. My partner left me downstairs with him, while he searched the house. I was scared, but it all worked out.” He said the case ended up being solved quickly, but it was a harrowing experience for an officer who had been on the force for less than a year at the time.
It wasn’t long before Gavin proved himself a trustworthy officer and became a field training officer. During his time as a patrol officer, Gavin said he responded to just about every type of call — from helping people to gruesome murders. “When you’re young and training, you need to experience that,” he said. “It helps to harden you up and make you a better officer overall.”
After his time in a squad car, he moved to undercover work in the narcotics division, something that was a bit of a disaster in terms of effectiveness. “I’m as clean as they come,” he said. “I’ve never tried drugs of any kind.” In his entire time as an undercover officer, he said, he never successfully bought or sold any drugs. “They would see me and drive right away,” he said. “I couldn’t fit the part.”
From there, he became a traffic enforcement officer and a motorcycle patrolman. For a time, he was the “most hated” officer in the city, he said. “When I worked in traffic, I was also the ordinance officer,” he said. “I was the nicest guy around, but they hated me.” During that time, he also was working with the accident reconstruction team, which worked hand-in-hand with the Michigan State Police.
From there, he became a sergeant, and about five years later, was promoted to lieutenant. After several years, he became the road captain, which was the last stop before he became an administrative officer.
He started working as a crisis negotiator as a patrolman and continued to do so through his time as a captain. In that role, Gavin was the one on the phone with the man who shot and killed Cpl. Jason Makowski in 2006. “It was my last big call before I became deputy chief,” he said. “I was talking with him right before he shot our guy.” Gavin said the man invited him to come to the house so he could shoot him. “It was just after that when I heard him shoot Jason,” Gavin said.
He said it was the toughest moment of his career. A short while later, Gavin was promoted to deputy chief, a role he only had for about six months before becoming chief in May 2008.
Gavin said he saw the department change a lot over his career. “One of the things I”m proud of is the diversification of the department while I was chief,” he said. During his tenure, the department hired their first black officers, their first female officers and started to recruit people of Middle Eastern descent.
When not working, Gavin has donated a lot of his time to service organizations such as the Goodfellows and the ACCESS Substance Abuse and Tobacco Prevention/Cessation program. He said even in retirement, he’ll keep working in the community. “This is my home,” Gavin said. “I grew up here, and I’ll continue to live here.” Gavin said he had a “great career” and enjoyed working as part of the team to keep the community safe.
“No one person can do everything,” he said. “It takes a team to make it work.”
We honor you, Lee Gavin.
(#Repost @Press and Guide)