On His Feet, On The Street

Less than two years after a sniper's bullet nearly tore off his leg, Detective Jeff Dauer is back on the Gang Squad, cruising Phoenix's toughest turf

Dr. Michael Lucero--the cousin of a Phoenix cop--inserted a steel rod into Dauer's shredded leg that long night at Good Sam. Doctors John Corey and Vincent Russo agreed to perform the skin/muscle grafts and the bone work, respectively, during the months ahead, but made no guarantees.

"It was almost harder after the initial touch-and-go part," Dauer says. "The doctors told me that six months could go by and they'd have to take the leg if things didn't go right."

Dr. Russo, one of the state's foremost practitioners of bone-lengthening and regeneration, explains:"His tibia bone was totally smashed, with just a little bone left on top and bottom. What I did was slowly move the remaining bone together--regenerating it, actually--in a very intensive treatment."

Russo says that complications during the regeneration process--especially infection--are commonplace.

"It's not for everybody," he says. "You almost have to be someone of Jeff Dauer's personality profile, a real go-getter. He didn't utilize pain medication during this, and he kept a great attitude. But I still never anticipated he'd be able to return to his previous work."

During his rehabilitation, Dauer had a rare opportunity to reflect on where he'd been and where he wanted to go.

Police work hadn't been inevitable. He grew up in Winchester, Indiana, a town of 5,000 about an hour northeast of Indianapolis. His father was an auto mechanic, his mother a factory clerk. He has one sibling, an older sister.

Dauer describes himself as a typical Hoosier--a sports fanatic who sees a ball field or a basketball court as heaven. He wasn't keen on studying, and after his graduation from high school in 1982, Dauer worked for a few years as a machine operator at the factory that employed his mother.

He enrolled at Ball State University in nearby Muncie, but dropped out during his sophomore year. Dauer moved to North Carolina with his first wife in the late 1980s, where he toiled, among other places, in a sheet-metal factory.

Still seeking direction in his life, Dauer in 1990 migrated to Arizona from North Carolina, where his in-laws lived. He learned that the Phoenix Police Department was hiring. The job interested him.

"Becoming an officer wasn't an obsession with me," he recalls, "but I'm not the kind of guy who likes to sit in the office and punch a clock. I get bored real easy. It just started to sound like a cool possibility."

After successfully completing the police academy, Dauer became a Phoenix patrolman in December 1990. He requested and received an assignment in the often rough-and-tumble South Mountain Precinct.

"I heard it had the most action and it was the place to be if you're eager to learn things quickly," Dauer says. "You just ride the radio, waitin' for something to happen, which it always does. I saw so many dead bodies in such a short period of time. It was a lot of growing up in a hurry."

Dauer's small-town, white-bread upbringing was the antithesis of the urban multicultural milieu that confronted him. He listened as other officers--many of them Valley natives--talked the street talk of their clientele.

But as he gained experience, Dauer learned that just being himself was his best bet.

"I like to laugh whenever I can," he says, "try to keep things as light as possible on the street. At the same time, I always show respect to those who show some to me. That's not too much to ask, is it? But there also comes a time when you have to be tough and hold your ground. It's a balancing act."

After almost four years in patrol, his supervisors encouraged him to apply for the highly competitive Gang Squad.

"The most important thing I look for is maturity," says Phoenix police commander Ralph Griffith, "and Jeff has that, along with lots of experience. You're dealing with gangbangers all night, situation after situation. All the good work we do can be destroyed in one evening if someone does something stupid."

Dauer says he wasn't sure he wanted to leave his patrol beat, but tested for the squad and aced it.

"Going into Gangs," he says, "I said to myself, 'If it doesn't work out for some reason and my uniform still fits, I'll go back to patrol in a second.' Then I got shot, just when I was getting my feet wet. I figured I owed it to myself and everyone to try to get back out there."

Doctors allowed Dauer to go home two weeks after Benny Johnson shot him. Recently divorced, he spent hour after hour listening to his police scanner. As he was forced to return to the hospital repeatedly for surgeries, he sometimes wondered if it was worth it.

"It's impossible to be up all the time," Dauer says. "Whenever I headed toward the dumps, I made myself think of why I was doing this, my goal, which was to do what I had been doing when the guy got me."

Commander Griffith--who heads the department's organized-crime unit--had visited Dauer at the hospital on the night of the shooting. He says he never suspected the injured officer would return to the streets.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets