At 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, Chester County sheriff’s deputy Cedric Dunn was on the phone with his momma.
The 28-year-old husband and father of a young son and daughter has been a cop in Chester for two years. With grapefruit-sized biceps snaking out from under his short-sleeved uniform shirt and a big, white-toothed smile across his face, he had been on patrol since 6 a.m. and had answered several calls.
He called his mother because that is what sons do when there is a minute to take a break.
But that minute was interrupted by a call from Dunn’s police radio: “Shots fired!”
The biggest muscles in the world do not stop bullets. Only training, knowledge, and luck stop bullets.
And bulletproof vests.
Momma heard the crackle of the police radio call over her son’s cellphone, and she begged him not to go. Dunn then did two things he had never done in his life.
“I hung up on my mother,” he said, “and I disobeyed her.”
Shots had been fired from a vehicle on Morningside Drive, the dispatcher said, and the neighborhood was in a panic. Dunn was the closest deputy, so he rushed to the scene just outside the Chester city limits and saw the black vehicle speeding away.
A man leaped out of the car while it was moving and began firing at Dunn.
“I didn’t think when I went to work Tuesday I would get shot at,” Dunn said. “In this job, you do think about getting home alive to your family. But I didn’t worry about that when the call came. I just went, because the public needs me. They expect it from me. They will get it from me.”
Cedric Dunn is what regular people call “the Po-lice” in this rural county of about 33,000 people constantly dealing with joblessness and poverty and – despite the denials of some politicians – crime, guns and at times, a gang problem.
A dead councilman, dead and wounded teens and young men, shots fired at night like fireworks – that is a problem by any definition, whether politicians admit it or not.
Gunfire where kids play cannot go on, Dunn said, so he goes right into where bullets are flying.
And this time, they were flying at him.
A police officer can’t say he will not go. He can’t say it is too dangerous. Yet for less money than is paid a convenience store manager, Dunn and other cops ran after that gunman, and three minutes after the shots rang out, Akiel Pendergrass, 21, was in handcuffs, charged with assault and battery.
Only when it was over did Dunn take a deep breath and realize his life had been in danger.
What did he do next?
He went back to work.
Neighbors rushed to hug “the Po-lice.” They thanked Dunn and others, including Sheriff Alex Underwood, who was right there with all his top officers because when anyone is shot at in a Chester County neighborhood filled with real people, the big guys roll on the call, too.
Just two weeks before Tuesday’s shooting, Dunn had finally received a brand new bulletproof vest. That vest, and 20 more like it, were not paid for by tax dollars divvied out by politicians or bureaucrats who argue with the sheriff over whether there is a crime problem or a gang problem.
Donations totaling $20,000 came from regular people who would not tolerate political bickering when deputies did not have safe equipment. The public knows that when young men are shooting at each other in the streets, the police must be protected when they rush to catch those who shoot and maim and kill.
Underwood, whose life was saved by a bulletproof vest years ago when he was a State Law Enforcement Division agent arresting a killer, praised Dunn for his bravery Tuesday in a neighborhood filled with kids home on summer break, older people on porches, mothers pushing strollers.
“Any one of those shots fired in the entire incident could have hit someone,” Underwood said.
Underwood has said repeatedly that he will not tolerate gun violence on Chester County’s streets. He has asked deputies like Dunn to work longer hours, to face danger and bullets, to protect the public. There has been unpaid overtime and extra shifts – and the officers still do it.
“That is just what Deputy Dunn did Tuesday,” Underwood said. “He did an excellent job. He did a brave job. He did the job we all do. He went in when everyone else was running away.”
All the words Underwood spoke to the Chester County Council about his deputies’ needing vests, it all came true on a hot July morning. Shots fired around so many innocents, a chase, bullets flying at cops that could have hit anybody.
Just weeks ago, the flimsy old vests deputies had been wearing might have saved the officer. Maybe not.
“This was just the type of situation – real life, bullets – I have been telling people about,” Underwood said. “That’s why we need those vests.”
Deputy Cedric Dunn – with two kids who think their father is the strongest, bravest man in the world – did not need that vest Tuesday to stop a bullet that had his name on it.
The bullets missed him, but he still had the vest.
And the public who thanked him for protecting them, for risking his life for them, paid for it.
When bullets started flying Tuesday in Chester County, politics and jurisdictional bickering over money and office space was proven ridiculous when dozens of people were in danger, and police officers ran to help.
No delay. No worry over jurisdiction, desks, offices or even money.
No politician went to the rescue. No bureaucrat or analyst or councilman.
Just several sheriff’s deputies – including one who did not blink, who hung up on his momma.
After his shift ended Tuesday, Dunn hugged his kids and wife. He called his breathless and worried momma to apologize for disobeying her, for hanging up.
And what did Dunn say to himself as he assured his mother he was fine?
“I will do it again, no doubt.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065 firstname.lastname@example.org