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Rookie Arlington cop is following in her NYPD ‘Superman’ stepfather’s footsteps

Officer Brooke Chaco with Chief Andy Penn at her police academy graduation on Dec. 10 (courtesy of ACPD)

December 21, 2015 was the day that led Brooke Chaco to becoming an Arlington County police officer.

It was that day six years ago when her stepfather, New York Police Department detective Joseph Lemm, and five others were killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

“It changed my whole life,” Chaco tells ARLnow. “It made me appreciate what law enforcement does even more.”

Chaco grew up in a family full of police and military veterans, but the profession didn’t much appeal to her until Lemm came into her life as a stepfather when she was about ten years old.

“I was a brat, for a lack of a better word, and didn’t want to give him the time of day,” she admits.

Lemm was a long-time New York police officer, serving for nearly 15 years, mostly in the Bronx. He was also staff sergeant in the Air National Guard and had been deployed multiple times. His stature may have been intimidating, but his demeanor was anything but.

In fact, his nickname among friends was “Superman,” due in part to sorta looking like the superhero’s alter ego Clark Kent and that Lemm could be all things to everyone he loved.

“He was just this big, gentle giant,” Chaco says. “He had a way with his words that gained people’s trust and got them to talk to him.”

In early 2015, Lemm was deployed again to Afghanistan and was looking forward to speaking with his family on Christmas with the hope he’d be home soon.

Four days before Christmas, however, a suicide bomber on a motorbike carried out an attack on his convoy during a patrol. Lemm was only 45 years old when he was killed and left behind his wife, then-16-year-old Chaco, and her four-year-old brother Ryan.

“I had to help raise [Ryan] after my stepfather passed,” she says. “He’s a very big part of my life and a big reason as to why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

The loss made headlines nationally and especially in the New York City area, where the New York Post wrote about how Brooke, a singer, paid a musical tribute to her fallen-hero dad at a memorial benefit for the family. (Earlier this year, the Post also wrote about a bridge in Westchester County being dedicated to Lemm.)

New York Post article highlighting Brooke Chaco’s tribute to her fallen stepfather

The tragedy helped Chaco find her calling.

She was hired into the ACPD — a force in much need of additional officers — this past April, even prior to graduating from James Madison University. Despite having a family full of officers, she’s the first woman in her family to join the police force. She loves New York and her family, but is looking to forge her own identity in Arlington.

“I didn’t want my peers to look at me any differently or my supervisors to look at me differently because of the sacrifice that my stepfather made,” Chaco says. “I wanted to make my own path.”

Chaco remains an officer in training. She graduated from the academy earlier this year and is now in the midst of field training, where she’s being paired with a more experienced officer. All in all, training to become a full time solo officer can take a little over a year. When that’s completed, and after a few years of patrol work, Chaco hopes to end up in the special victims unit.

When asked what advice her stepfather would give her if he was here today, Chaco said it would be to always stay calm.

“Probably verbatim he would say ‘take a chill pill’,” she says with a laugh. “It is a priority to stay calm, for your safety and for others’ safety.”

At her police academy graduation this month, 20 members of her family were there in a show of support including a number of them in their own uniforms. The NYPD even offered congratulations on its official social media accounts.

It was a touching scene for Chaco, especially considering everything she and the family have been through.

There was one person who wasn’t there, though. Chaco says her stepfather would have been so proud of her that she’s making a career out of helping people.

“I do think he’d be a little surprised,” she says about her becoming a police officer. “But I definitely think he would have wholeheartedly supported it as well.”

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