La PORTE — As one of the station's detectives recently showed, officers with the La Porte Police Department are on duty even when they're off the clock.
On Wednesday, Chief Thomas Owens recognized 12-year LPPD veteran Matt Drangmeister for recently helping to apprehend the suspect in May's armed robbery of the La Porte CVS pharmacy. Last month, the detective identified the suspect's vehicle while off duty — in another city, to boot — which led to the driver's arrest.
During the award presentation, Owens praised Drangmeister for his keen detective sense and observation skills, which he used to bring the suspect into custody.
"[Drangmeister] not only protected the citizens in La Porte from possible future crimes but, by getting this guy ID'd and off the street and going through the process, he has protected other communities," Owens said.
"Who knows? If this guy was not apprehended, he could have ended up in a shooting. This is huge, it really is."
Owens did not reveal the name of the suspect or additional details about the case, as it is still ongoing, he said.
The robbery occurred on May 22, when a man approached the local CVS's pharmacy counter and demanded several prescription drugs via a note. The note listed the pills he wanted, which included Norco, Valium and Adderall, and implied the suspect was armed.
The threatened employee complied with the man's demands, with the robber then fleeing the scene in his vehicle. Several nearby surveillance cameras captured footage of his escape.
Several weeks later, on the evening of June 11, the La Porte County resident was enjoying a day off with his family in South Bend. When he pulled up to an intersection in his vehicle, he spotted the suspect's car, a silver Chrysler PT Cruiser, at the other end of the road.
Drangmeister knew the escape vehicle inside and out, having studied the surveillance footage during his investigation of the robbery, he said. The detective noted that the PT Cruiser had two separate sets of rims, a spoiler in the center and several distinctive blemishes and rust spots, which made it stand out.
After identifying the vehicle, Drangmeister made a U-turn and drove behind the suspect's car, intending to record the vehicle's plate number and follow up when he returned to work.
Noticing the driver didn't see the detective was tailing him, though, Drangmeister decided instead to bring the suspect in right then.
He called St. Joseph County dispatch to let them know he was in pursuit of the suspect. A short time later, several South Bend Police Department officers pulled the man over and took him into custody.
A search of the suspect's vehicle revealed several articles used in the La Porte robbery, Drangmeister said.
The detective credits his wife for unknowingly assisting him with the arrest.
The family waited an extra five minutes after dinner, as she had ordered a to-go beverage at the restaurant where they ate, Drangmeister said. Had they left several minutes earlier, they would not have entered the intersection at the same time the suspect did.
The officer also believes a bit of divine intervention helped bring the case to a close.
"[God] put me where I needed to be, right at the right time," Drangmeister said. "That's the only thing that makes sense to me."
Owens said that every officer in his department shares the same dedication and vigilance that Drangmeister recently demonstrated — two things that, in this particular case, paid off huge.
"That is fantastic work," Owens said. "I can't say enough about it. That is law enforcement at its best. And [Drangmeister] is one of our best."