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Police Commissioner O'Neill's Eulogy for Detective Brian Simonsen

February 20, 2019

Remarks as Delivered at the Funeral Service for NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen

On behalf of the entire New York City Police Department, let me extend to each of you here in this beautiful church — and to the thousands of police officers from around New York, around the nation, and around the world, who are standing outside in the freezing cold — our thanks for joining with us this morning in our hour of grief.

Thank you to the many political leaders who are here, the community leaders who stand with us everyday, and the clergy who are helping us through this tragic time.

Why do people call 911? They call 911 when someone's in a state of crisis or there is something going on that they're not equipped to handle themselves.

It requires a very specific type of person to respond to that call — someone like NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen. It takes a cop like Brian, who believed in being part of something larger than himself.

Without the police, there would be anarchy. It's because police officers confront the evil that exists, that life is bearable for the people of New York City.

Cops like Brian are decision-makers. Some decisions are small, some are more significant, some are life-and-death. But in every situation, cops must react, they cannot hesitate. Because in each moment, so much is at stake.

It's a tremendous weight to bear, knowing that your choices will directly affect the lives of others. But cops like Brian don't shy away from it — it's the very foundation of who they are and what they do. It's hard, challenging, stressful work. And it's absolutely fundamental to every aspect of our society.

Cops like Brian are proud to do it — it's the oath they all swore. It's the promise they made to every New Yorker and to themselves — that they would dedicate their lives to keeping others safe.

Brian was the one you were grateful to see arrive on the scene. He was the one you wanted beside you when the decisions mattered most.

And so, last Tuesday night, Brian and his partner, Sergeant Matt Gorman, heard that familiar call for help — and they answered it.

They made the decision to move toward the danger, to face it head-on. They did so because people needed them. They did so because they make tough decisions others are unwilling or unable to do. They did so because they are NYPD cops.

And being an NYPD cop is what Brian dedicated his life to. 18 years, 11 months, and 12 days. He spent his entire law-enforcement career in the 102 — you don't see that much anymore. His area of central Queens is a sprawling community in which virtually everyone who lives and works works there knew him or had seen him; they liked him and, most importantly, they respected him.

He fell in love with his community, and the community fell in love with him. He had to have loved it, as the Mayor said, it's 70 miles, each way, that's dedication.

For nearly 19 years at the 102nd Precinct, Brian attended the roll calls, the birthday parties, the coffee runs, the weddings… and the funerals. And, for nearly 19 years, he did the work.

We honor Brian's memory when we pick up where he left off. We won't ever finish his work, but the respect is in the effort. It's in hearing that call for help, and answering it.

Brian took great pride in the job and approached all aspects of it seriously. But he was always ready with a joke, too. He had a knack for making you feel like his best friend.

When new cops came into the command, they always talked to Brian, who made sure they learned how to do things the right way. And if anyone had something difficult in their lives going on, they'd find Brian.

Brian knew how to talk to people, and more importantly, he know how to listen. Maybe that's due to his mom Linda, or the positive grounding of his wife Leanne, a nurse from Chicago, a police family he met on vacation in Las Vegas.

They married in 2013. Husband and wife — a team that, together, worked hard to see others live their best lives possible.

It was about being positive, being hopeful, and putting things right.

Every cop tries to make things right when things have gone wrong.

In the 102nd Squad, Brian was an investigator who specialized in robberies. Robberies are very hard cases to work.

Victims are urged to remember faces they're desperate to forget, often glimpsed for just a terrified moment. Detectives knock on countless doors to find witnesses, and to show countless pictures.

Detectives have to make connections.

After these crimes, victims who were once confident find themselves suddenly afraid. There is a loss of trust, a loss of belief in their fellow human beings. But Brian was always able to really communicate and reach people.

He was exceedingly good at his job, and at making those connections — finding those links. He had close to 600 arrests, 500 of which were felonies. But it's only part of the story.

In Brian's final case, which he and Matt were investigating last Tuesday night, a man had been walking home just after midnight on February 4th.

The man had his headphones on, listening to music. Someone grabbed him from behind and punched him in the face, over and over. Bones were broken — his nose, his eye socket. His attackers took his wallet, his keys, his phone, and his dignity. He staggered to his feet, bloodied and astonished.

And then they came back. They knocked him down again, kicking him and punching him. They told him to unlock his phone so they could reset it. One suggested they cut off his thumb so they wouldn't need his passcode. One of them put a gun to his chest. He unlocked the phone — and the group left again.

"How could this happen?" he thought. "Why did this happen?"

Shortly after that brutal robbery, the man met Detective Brian Simonsen.

What police officers like Brian do is make victims feel they're not alone — that the fight isn't over. Making connections with the evidence is just part of the job; detectives also must reconnect victims with the hope that was stolen from them.

The victim in this case said Brian made him "feel OK — that he was going to catch these guys." I'm sure the other people who had him as a detective had the same feeling.

In addition to Brian, the man also had high praise for Sergeant Gorman, with whom he spoke almost daily about the case.

But one of the suspects from that horrific robbery was caught earlier in the day, last Tuesday. A tip came in that a second suspect from that robbery had been spotted. Brian and Matt immediately went out to look for him. No hesitation. While driving around, searching, doing what cops do — the call came over about the T-Mobile gunman.

The victim in Brian's last case is a doctor. He works at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, and was on duty the night Brian and Matt were rushed there from the cell phone store.

While he doesn't work in the ER, the doctor was able to check in on Matt as he was recovering from surgery. He would have given anything to be able to help Brian — the way Brian had helped him.

Just like that doctor, Sergeant Gorman and all of the police officers at that tragic shooting will carry this grief with them for the rest of their lives. But let me tell you something: Those cops responded to a call for help. They didn't hesitate. And they are not to blame.

The two people responsible for Brian's death — the only two — are the career criminals who decided to go to that store on Tuesday night and commit an armed robbery.

Late last week, I read a newspaper profile of the suspect– the man who burst in, wearing a mask, and held innocent people at the end of a pistol they had every reason to believe was a real gun; the man who forced those scared workers into a back room before filling a duffle bag with cash and other items.

That front-page article described the criminal as — and I'm quoting — "an eccentric man with a history of prior arrests for minor crimes."

I'm not sure what city — what country — the authors think they're in, but where New York City cops come from, two dozen run-ins for offenses including armed robbery, impersonating a police officer and a federal agent, stalking a judge, grand larceny and more, are decidedly not minor crimes. And I'd wager his victims didn't think so, either.

So, I'd like to offer an alternate description of this 27-year-old felon: He's a criminal. He's a thief. And now he's responsible for Brian's death.

I've said previously that the police were never intended to rectify all of society's ills. But yet, our perceived role in the world continues to expand.

Hear me when I tell you this: We, alone, cannot solve the opioid crisis. We, alone, cannot overhaul the care and services afforded to those with mental health issues. We, alone, cannot prevent every conceivable crime that might be committed. Other forces must intervene.

All of those things require the full and willing partnership of every member of the public — every resident; every worker in every agency at all levels of government; every elected official.

But today is about the ones who are making a difference — cops like Brian. So, the next time you see the lights and hear the sirens, take a moment to think about who answers those calls for help. Where are they going? What might await them?

Take a moment to appreciate that these are people — your neighbors — who are putting themselves in harm's way to keep you safe. They don't know you. They may have never seen you, never spoken to you. But they will do everything in their power to protect you. They will put your lives above their own.

That's who they are — they are the very best among us. They are the NYPD. They are Detective Brian Simonsen. And they will always be there, fighting against violence, against brutality, against cruelty, and against anyone who wishes you harm. They do this for you. They do it for everyone you care about. And they do it for Brian.

One of the final tributes paid to Brian was the way his fellow detectives took over that brutal February 4th robbery case of his, working hard on it, even as they grappled with his loss. Since Brian's death, they have already made two additional arrests.

Brian would have been proud to see that done. It is justice — and he was in the justice business. But what happened to Brian was not justice. And it's a tragedy of the deepest, most painful kind. Why him? How could this happen?

We will learn every possible fact and try to draw every appropriate lesson, but it won't be enough. It will hurt forever. One day — not today, and not soon — when we think of Brian, we'll feel more than just the pain of his loss. To do that, we have to live by his example — because you know he'd want it that way.

We will never match the sacrifice made by Brian, but we can try to match his sense of service. If we cannot match his courage, we can strive to match his devotion.

To the men and women of the 102, and all the members of the NYPD who bravely go out every day with the sole mission of fighting crime and keeping people safe — and it does take courage: Thank you for your dedication.

Please don't ever forget why you chose to become police officers. Always remember who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Continue to be proud of that. And never forget that Brian lived to protect all New Yorkers, and his legacy protects us still.

And this morning, that legacy expands as I promote Brian Simonsen to Detective First Grade.

To Leanne and Linda, and to all of Brian's loved ones, know this: Our family is your family. We will always be one. The NYPD will always be here for you. We pray that Brian now finds rest, and that you find solace and peace and strength to live the lives Brian fought to give all of us.

God bless Detective Brian Simonsen. And God bless every member of the New York City Police Department, who will forever now carry on his most important work. Thank you.

Mayor, Public Advocate, Police Commissioner in front of a flag-draged casket