Omaha attorney Mike Dyer is still a New York cop at heart — his Nebraska license plates read NYPD RET.
For much of the past week he worked alongside other former police officers helping New York victims of Hurricane Sandy in Breezy Point, where homes were destroyed by wind and fire, and in Rockaway, where houses were ripped off their foundations.
“It looked like a bomb went off,” Dyer said. “It was just devastating.”
Some people had a hard time letting go of unsalvageable items that were about to be hauled off for disposal.
“One lady said, 'Wait, I want to go through that stuff,'” Mike recalled. “Her daughter said, 'Mom, those are just my old report cards.' People were just completely lost.”
In Rockaway, where he once walked a patrol along a boardwalk that is now destroyed, people picked through donated clothing that had been brought to an outdoor lot.
“It was so humbling,” he said. “This is America. Imagine reaching through someone else's clothing to find something to wear.”
Dyer, 51, grew up on Long Island and served four years on the NYPD. He retired on disability as a young man in 1985 as the result of a leg injury at a post-concert “riot” in Central Park. After college, though he had never traveled west of New Jersey, he enrolled at Creighton University School of Law.
He and wife Elizabeth, his law partner, have three daughters. Mike was in Florida visiting his brother when the storm hit the New York-New Jersey area. He soon received an alert from the NYPD Retiree Mobilization Plan, calling for help.
He caught a flight home to Omaha eight days ago, bought 300 blankets, gathered toothbrushes, cleaning supplies and other items that friends had purchased, and piled them into his car. He left that Saturday evening and was stopped for speeding in Iowa and Indiana — but highway patrolmen didn't ticket him, he said, when he explained his “humanitarian mission.”
In New York, Mike met up with friends, including Assistant Chief Ed Delatorre, who told me by phone Thursday that more than 100 retired officers had responded to the call. Just as after 9/11, people from around the country have donated and helped.
“This time the attack was by Mother Nature,” Delatorre said. “It's heartbreaking. But there's been the same groundswell of support.”
A snowstorm and long lines at gas stations last week only made things worse for people in New York and New Jersey. Like many others, Dyer's brother on Long Island, a deputy sheriff, waited in line for gas for his personal car for 2½ hours.
Mike drove back home to Omaha late in the week, moved by what he had seen but glad to have worked with other former officers.
“Once you're a cop, you're a cop,” he said. “It's a fraternity with a heck of a sense of belonging.”
Michael J. Dyer, who was born in Brooklyn, grew up wanting to become a police officer.
Today his law practice includes representing members of law enforcement agencies. He has served as president of the local Emerald Society, made up of police officers and firefighters of Irish heritage. His old NYPD uniform hangs on a mannequin in his law office.
He has retained close ties to New York. Almost every year since he left he has returned to wear a green jacket and march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
New Yorkers and Jerseyites affected by the storms face an uphill battle, but Mike is counting on their resiliency. They will need help, though, in the months ahead.
Though he had to return to the middle of America, Mike took heart in hearing a retired police officer console a woman.
“Next summer,” he said, “we'll have a barbecue with you.”
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