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Everyday Heroes 2016: Mike Bennett, Crystal Lake Police Department

Crystal Lake Police Sgt. Mike Bennett has shoveled driveways, changed tires and even stopped traffic on Route 31 to help a mother goose and her goslings get across the busy roadway.

Bennett sees it as part of the job, one that led to his decision to pursue a career as a police officer after working as a security officer in low-income housing, but one that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.

“[Departments] don’t prioritize that,” Bennett said. “But you do hear about how many tickets you wrote the day before, how many tickets they want you to write, concentrating on different intersections for certain violations and stuff like that.”

The Crystal Lake Police Department, where Bennett has spent the past 21 years, has been supportive of the efforts, but the good deeds still aren’t quantifiable, he said.

Bennett’s emphasis on community policing is one of the reasons he was named to a new target response unit that will be focused on problem-solving within the community, getting to spend more time on quality-of-life issues such as neighbor disputes, kids who are running into trouble and issues related to drug addiction, said his supervisor, Cmdr. Ron Joseph.

“Mike is self-initiated, team-oriented, works to inspire his personnel to achieve a higher level of customer service,” Joseph said.

That’s why Joseph wasn’t surprised at all to hear that Bennett was raising money to buy a new dog for Laura Johnson, a developmentally disabled Crystal Lake resident who had been out walking her dog when she was hit by a car, leaving her dog, Scooby, dead and her with an injured foot and leg.

Johnson had been woken up by her dog around 2 a.m. Oct. 26, said her mother, Judy Johnson.

Laura Johnson doted on Scooby, a 3-year-old shelter dog that looked like a black poodle, and would take him out anytime of day or night, Judy Johnson said. They’d head out the front door and loop around the condominium complex they’ve lived in for the past 18 years.

That night, they didn’t make it farther than the sidewalk right outside their building when a car driven by Damian Dzitkowski jumped the curb and hit the two of them. Dzitkowski was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and was sentenced to a year of probation in December.

“She was down there screaming, ‘He killed my dog. He killed my dog,’” Judy Johnson said. “She was sitting on the ground. She couldn’t stand up yet. She was in such shock. Her foot hurt, but she didn’t even realize [that she had been hit].”

Information came to Bennett in bits and pieces as the first officer responded and then he arrived to conduct the investigation, get witness statements and, ultimately, make an arrest, he said.

“After everything kind of died down and we talked to Laura a little bit – she didn’t say a whole lot – then we realized there was more to it than a woman out with her dog,” Bennett said. “By the end of the shift, it kind of sank in. I think a lot of us felt pretty bad.”

Bennett thought about putting out a jar with a note on it to raise money to help replace the Johnsons’ dog, but then he decided to do something “a little bit more modern.”

A link to the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe.com was sent around the Crystal Lake Police Department and its dispatch center, Southeast Emergency Communications or SEECOM, Bennett said. Within three days, they had raised $500, and by the end of the week, it was about $1,000.

The Johnsons used the money plus an additional $200 they had gotten from some of Judy Johnson’s former co-workers – she had retired from McHenry County College the year before – to buy a bichon-frise-and-shi-tzu mix puppy they named Abbie.

The donation gave Laura Johnson something to look forward to instead of just thinking about what had happened and the dog she lost, Judy Johnson said.

Actions like this help the police department build trust with the community and ensure the department can be successful, Joseph said.

“I thought it was very noble,” he said. “It was very empathetic and noble that he would lead the charge for trying to make restitution, but working with him for 21 years, that’s nothing that surprised me.”

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