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Queens Chronicle

Friends, colleagues mourn NYPD vet

Steven Silks spent nearly four decades on force, faced retirement

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Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019 10:30 am

NYPD Deputy Chief Steven Silks, the executive officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, fatally shot himself last Wednesday night on Burns Street near 69th Avenue in Forest Hills.

“There are no words to describe how we feel,” said Capt. Jonathan Cermeli, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct. “I’m in shock, disbelief and plagued with sadness.”

Silks’ office was at the precinct, only a few blocks away. A 38-year veteran of the force, Silks was facing the mandatory retirement age of 63 and the Daily News said he had submitted retirement papers at the NYPD pension office the day before.

“He was sad that he had to leave this job because he loved it so much,” Cermeli said. “But nobody ever thought in a million years anything like this would ever happen.”

Cermeli knew Silks for 10 years, since their days in Queens South.

“He was a mentor to me,” Cermeli said. “He was a friend. He was just a great person who dedicated his life to this police department ... this was his world. This was his life.”

He added, “I always felt good when I was in his presence. You knew if you were at a heavy job or something crazy was going on or something big was happening and he was next to you, you felt like you’re in good hands. You knew he had the experience and the knowledge.”

Terence Monahan, chief of department for the NYPD, remembered the 1980s, when he and Silks were cops in the Bronx — Silks in the 40th Precinct, Monahan in the 44th — a time when there were lots of drugs and guns on the street and a time Monahan said were “the best years we had on the job.”

“We never wanted to miss a day of work,” Monahan said at Silks’ funeral service Tuesday. “It was fun. You took a day off, you came back in the next day, everyone had a story; you missed it. You didn’t want to be that guy that missed that story that day.”

Silks grew up in the Bronx, delivering papers and even starting a window washing business at the age of 13.

Eventually Silks made his way to Queens.

“He fell in love with this place,” Monahan said. “He really did. He loved the men and women of this borough.”

Assistant Chief Martin Morales, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, noted that Silks was a Boy Scout who “always dreamed of making a difference in the world.”

Morales said Silks was a man with many interests: a bike rider, a car expert — he worked in the pits at NASCAR — and was even a guest at the Academy Awards.

“He was a seat-filler,” Morales explained.

Silks was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom and was recently the first Jewish person honored with an NYPD Holy Name Society Man of the Year award.

Morales recalled that Silks was excited to watch the ball drop in Times Square last year for New Year’s Eve because it was his last year on the force.

Monahan noted that Silks would always have an explanation for why he wasn’t retiring, like when Juanita Holmes took over command of Queens North.

“I was gonna retire but now I can’t,” he told him. “I want to be there. I want to help Juanita.”

Then Morales replaced Holmes.

“I was gonna leave after the Open but now I’ve gotta stay with Marty,” Silks said.

“He never wanted to leave this place,” Monahan said.

Cermeli, who called Silks a “real champion and a pioneer of policing,” said experience was a large part of what made the late officer successful.

“He had the experience of not only nearly 40 years of working in the same profession but he worked in some of the toughest areas during the toughest times,” he said. “He’d seen New York City go through financial crises, through the worst crime ever and then he’s seen it evolve into the neighborhood policing and he’s seen how New York City has become the safest big city in the world. He was in so many different units.”

Cermeli said Silks’ work in the Bronx was an important part of that.

“Working in such tough neighborhoods back then, you learned,” he said. “You learned how to be a police officer and it taught you fast. And he worked in some of the toughest areas for many years.”

Silks had been in Patrol Borough Queens North since March 2014.

“He inspired me,” Cermeli said. “He gave me so many words of wisdom and helped me throughout my career. I’m forever grateful that I had the chance and opportunity to know such a great man.”

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) recalled conversations with Silks, saying the late officer had a good sense of humor and was “very down to earth.” Holden said the two would talk about memories of growing up in a different era.

“People don’t realize in the ’80s and ’90s, how bad the crime was ... it’s usually younger people complaining. They think crime is out of control,” Silks told Holden the last time they spoke. “They should’ve gone through the ’80s and ’90s.”

From 2000 to 2005, Silks was commanding officer of the NYPD’s Firearms and Tactics Section.

Late in 2001, when around 500 patrol cops citywide were armed with new, high-powered guns previously available only to elite special-unit officers, it was a study conducted by Silks that led to the change. Silks was also the commander of the NYPD firing range in the Bronx for several years.

In addition to being respected by fellow officers, Cermeli said, the community “absolutely loved him.”

“He’d be at anything that was going on in Queens,” Cermeli said, noting that Silks would be at the US Open, Mets games and every concert at Forest Hills Stadium. “He really loved Queens and he represented Queens very well.”

Silks grew up a Yankees fan but supported the Mets once he came to Queens. The Mets held a moment of silence for him before last Friday’s game at Citi Field.

Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, said she considered the residents “lucky” that Silks was assigned to Patrol Borough Queens North.

“He cared about our community,” she said. “He attended our meetings. He protected us at the concerts. He attended our dinners and our events. He became an integral part of our community. He championed police-community relations before it was in.”

Morales said Silks loved being at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, adding that the children “were an inspiration to Steve.”

Cermeli said, “He represented what’s best about this department. He never talked bad about it. He always had a positive attitude. Always.”

That made the news of his suicide all the more stunning and something that can move the conversation on suicide forward.

“We talk about it in the bathroom in hushed tones,” Monahan said. “Is there something we missed? Something that wasn’t said? Something we could’ve said. Something I could’ve said. Is there some reason he couldn’t reach out, something that was holding him back?”

He said it’s important to get rid of the stigma and of being a “tough guy” and to talk to someone about having problems.

“It’s a conversation that can’t be in whispered tones,” Monahan said. “We had to talk about it. We have to be in the open.”

NYPD homicide detective Joe Calabrese was found dead near bushes at Plumb Beach in Brooklyn from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, one day after Silks’ death. Calabrese, 58, had joined the force in 1982.

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill had a message to the members of the force in the wake of the tragedies.

“We need everyone in this agency to be willing to talk about this. This is a problem not only in the NYPD but all over law enforcement in this country,” he said.

O’Neill added, “You cannot internalize this. This is something that needs to be spoken about ... Our men and women run into danger every single day. We run into gunfire. We put our lives on the line for others that we don’t know. The least we can do is have a conversation to save one of our own.”

John Petrullo, a retired NYPD officer who is director of Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance, a group in which police officers help their comrades in dealing with the stresses that become routine in their line of work, spoke to the Chronicle in 2015 about officers getting help.

“Police officers see themselves as helpers,” he said. “Sometimes they won’t seek help themselves; they see it as a sign of weakness. It’s not something they’re accustomed to.”

Tuesday’s service was about remembering the life, not death, of Steven Silks.

Morales once told him, “Do you know you might be the only person on this planet to make the claim to climb both Mount Everest and the Brooklyn Bridge?”

“Yeah,” Silks said with a big smile. “Maybe I am.”

Welcome to the discussion.