Fortunately for residents, Cpl. Mike Garafalo was assigned to those cases.
Using skills honed during 20 years of service with the New York City Police Department, Garafalo solved those crimes at a rate three times higher than the national average.
In recognition of his impressive accomplishments, Garafalo was named Officer of the Year during the annual Apex Police Department’s award ceremony held May 19 at the Halle Cultural Arts Center. Garafalo also was one of five officers who received Meritorious Service Medals. The other four recipients included Officer Greg Bennett, Sgt. Mark Flaugher and Master Officers Matt Mellenberger and Jason Stone.
“We have a vast number of people who do exceptional work and make a difference,” said Chief Jack Lewis. “This is a good night for the people we recognized, a good night for our department and a good night for the citizens of Apex.”
It was certainly a memorable evening for Garafalo, who retired from the NYPD in 2005 and was hired in Apex a year later.
As a member of the criminal investigations unit, the veteran officer handled 320 property crimes. He cleared 60 percent of those incidents, which far exceeds the national average of 20 percent, and made 54 arrests.
“He has developed a knack for solving crimes and he did it the old-fashioned way,” said Lewis. “Many (of the accused) are now in jail or awaiting trial. The citizens of Apex have benefited greatly.”
But Garafalo has done much more than just solve crimes. He has also served as an unofficial mentor to younger officers still learning the nuances of the job.
“He has been a voice of good judgement and common sense,” said Lewis. “He has helped young officers understand the job of policing.
“Mike sets and example. He is an asset to our department in many ways.”
Garafalo said he was honored by the recognition and called coming to Apex one of the best decisions he ever made.
“I’ve never been happier at any place that I’ve worked,” said Garafalo.
He pointed out that his high rate of solving cases was the result of great teamwork among all the officers in the department.
“It’s not just one person,” said Garafalo. “It’s everyone working together as a team. I’m proud to be here and I’m very proud to work with the people I work with.”
Bennett was recognized for his work in identifying and thwarting gang activity. He spends many hours of his personal time seeking additional training and learning new techniques in uncovering local gangs. “He is a patrol officer who does most of (the gang policing) on his own time because he is committed to making a difference,” said Lewis. “He does more than is expected.”
Flaugher, a supervisor in the traffic safety unit, strives to find balance between enforcement and education to make Apex roadways safer. He has organized classes for young drivers and writes a column for The Apex Herald explaining the rules of the road.
“He is a great asset to the entire organization,” said Lewis. “He illustrates what is the very best.” Mellenberger and Stone were both recognized for their work as school resource officers. The two have worked together on various projects and fundraisers that help form a strong relationship with the youth of Apex.
Mellenberger writes a newsletter that provides resources and safety tips for staff and parents at the town’s middle schools. He has also developed an emergency plan for all the local schools. “He is a thinker and doer,” said Lewis. “He has made the schools and the community a safer place.” Stone organizes the department’s two largest charity events, the annual golf tournament and the “Cops versus Jocks” basketball game.
But it’s his work as the SRO at Apex High School that drew the most praise. Principal Matt Wight wrote a letter to Lewis that praised Stone’s positive influence on students.
“He is exactly what you hope for in an SRO,” said Lewis. “He has an open door and students go to him with their problems and seek out advice.
“He is a really good human being, a person with a heart who cares. People trust him and believe in him.” EMS Chief Nicky Winstead was awarded the Citizens Service Medal while Palak Hemansu Patel was named Explorer of the Year.
Individuals and businesses receiving Community Awards included: Shermand McLeod, Action Limo; Michelle and Tony Holmes, Chick-fil-A; Frank Kleober, Apex Super Target; Stacey Barbour, Scout Troop 209; Mark Nash, Walgreens; Edythe McMillan, Randy McMillan, Essie Jeffries and Floya Cotton, Brookridge Assisted Living.