One by one, the blue-clad officers filed onto the stage at Poly Prep, 9216 Seventh Avenue, to receive their awards, saluting crisply before approaching the precinct’s commanding officer, Captain Raymond Festino, and the commander of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, Chief Owen Monaghan, for their moment in the spotlight.
In total, 78 precinct members were honored, with seven – Police Officers Salvatore Billigmeier, Ethan Clyde, Stephen Gibbons, Francis Ingebrethsen, Salvatore Mazzaro, Richard Scheblein and John Wagner — receiving special commendations.
Two police officers and one civilian were singled out for special honors. Police Officer Juan Guzman was Police Officer of the Year. Police Officer Susan Porcello received the Community & Youth Service Award. And, Claire Cranston was Civilian of the Year.
There was much talk of what being a police officer means, as well as what it means to be a member of a police officer’s family.
“You families know better than anyone what it takes to be a police officer, what it means to serve the city, what it means to miss a birthday,” noted Monaghan. “Thank you for giving up your loved ones to the city and, in particular, to the 68th Precinct.”
And, to the assembled cops, Monaghan said, “What this is about is you, your sacrifice, your hard work, your excellent police work. This is our opportunity to recognize what you do, day in and day out.”
“Today is a day to celebrate you, the finest of the finest,” added Festino.
Also on stage were two prior commanders of the 68th Precinct, Inspector Eric Rodriguez and Deputy Inspector Richard DiBlasio.
Before the awards were distributed, the police officers and guests heard from one very special speaker, Detective Steven McDonald, who was shot in Central Park in 1986, in the line of duty, and grievously wounded.
Left a quadriplegic as a result of his injuries, McDonald spoke about his passion for service through the NYPD, and about the day he was shot, to repeated standing ovations. The son and grandson of cops, McDonald – whose one son is also a police officer – recalled a conversation between his father and a friend, in which his dad had called being a member of the NYPD “a great job,” and his friend had rejoined that it was the “only job.
“This is the only job, and I think you know that feeling,” McDonald said. “Thirty years ago, when I entered the Police Academy, I wanted to do the things I saw my dad, uncles and grandfather do before me, all the good they did for other people. I don’t know if I did it as well as they did, or if I could do it as well as all of you continue to do it, but it felt so good, putting on my uniform, and stepping onto the streets of this great city.”
Then, McDonald was transferred to the Central Park precinct, a move that led to his encounter with the teen who pulled the trigger and changed his life forever. Nonetheless, he reiterated, as he concluded his remarks, “Like my dad and his friend said over 50 years ago, this is not only a great job. It’s the only job.”