A burglar broke into the home of Dylan John and George Derrington early Sept. 5 and stole their laptops, a backpack and other items.

They reported the theft, but then, later that day, while walking with their friend Nicholas Bonn, they saw a man about a block from their University Hill home wearing the distinctive brown backpack. They confronted him.

"I grabbed him by the straps of the backpack and said, "Hey man, where'd you get this?" Bonn said. "I think he said he had found it on the side of the road five minutes ago. We knew he was lying."

John opened the bag and found his laptop inside. He and Derrington detained the man while Bonn contacted police at the nearby annex station.

The suspect, later identified as Daniel Cooper, was arrested and confessed to more than 50 burglaries as well as other crimes, police say.

The three University of Colorado students were among 24 community members, department officers and staff members recognized by Boulder police Thursday for outstanding efforts that made the city safer.

John, Derrington and Bonn were presented with Outstanding Citizenship Awards for their efforts that led to last year's arrest of the suspected serial burglar.

"I'm glad a lot of people got their stolen property back," John said.

Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner presented the awards. Alluding to difficult times earlier this year when two Boulder officers were arrested in the shooting of a Mapleton Hill elk, Beckner said he felt the awards better indicate the work the department does every day.

"I think it is always important to recognize the outstanding work our department members do and the exceptional assistance we get sometimes from community members as well," Beckner said.

Keith Hayse, of Boulder, also received an Outstanding Citizenship Award for assisting officers in tracking down and arresting an armed shoplifting suspect.

Other award recipients included the Boulder County Drug Task Force and Detective Chuck Heidel.

The task force members, who work undercover, received the department's Unit Citation for their work on two major drug busts. "Operation Hillside" resulted in the confiscation of seven pounds of ecstasy and 15 pounds of marijuana, Beckner said, while a second operation, known as "El Gaucho," cracked a large-scale Boulder County cocaine distribution ring and has resulted in 17 arrests so far.

Heidel, a 27-year department veteran, received the Award for Excellence. Heidel took up a long-term investigation into the 1994 murder of Boulder official Marty Grisham that eventually led to the conviction of Michael Clark, a former friend of Grisham's daughter, for the crime last year.

Boulder officers and two dispatchers were also recognized for outstanding work.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or rubinoj@dailycamera.com.