In a year featuring renewed debate about community-police relations, a March 14 memorial held in honor of two auxiliary police officers recognized two of the best among New York’s Finest.
The annual event commemorated Yevgeniy “Eugene” Marshalik, 19, and Nicholas Pekearo, 28, who — like all auxiliary officers — were unarmed on March 14, 2007, when they were killed while trying to stop a rampaging gunmen near the intersection of Sullivan and Bleecker Sts.
Two corners of that intersection were subsequently co-named in their honor. Another result of the two officers’ tragic deaths was that the New York Police Department now issues bulletproof vests to all auxiliary police officers. But a bill in the state Senate that would increase criminal penalties for those who attack or kill auxiliary officers remains stuck in committee.
In addition, Pekearo, an aspiring writer, even had a novel, “The Wolfman,” published posthumously.
Members of the N.Y.P.D. Auxiliary Police Program — the largest volunteer law enforcement force in the country at more than 4,500 members — perform patrols in uniform but typically serve as observers for local precincts rather than directly confronting suspects. But Pekearo and Marshalik disregarded the danger when they tailed David Garvin, who had just fatally shot a pizzeria employee on W. Houston St.
They pursued him onto Sullivan St., and Garvin turned and killed both of them. Minutes later, their assailant died nearby on Bleecker St. in a hail of bullets during a shootout with police officers.
Many people say that without the intervention of Pekearo and Marshalik, more people would have died that day. Last Saturday, a group of 75, including police officers and auxiliaries, family members of the two men and community members marched from the Sixth Precinct station on W. 10th St. to Sullivan and Bleecker Sts.
James O’Neill, the N.Y.P.D. chief of department, said in his remarks that the two men were the quintessential police officers.
“For them to show the courage and strength to do what they did exemplifies not only what the auxiliary officers do but also what police officers do for this city,” he said. “They keep us safe. Sometimes people fail to acknowledge that there are people in this world that are looking to hurt people.”
O’Neill added that time does not necessarily “heal all wounds,” though the effects of selfless police work have brought change to the city.
“If you look at the city 10, 20 years ago, it’s just not the same place,” he said. “It’s safe, and it’s safe because of what you do and because of what the brave men and women of the N.Y.P.D. do,” he told the officers and community activists.
But department practices during that period, notably the use of stop-and-frisk as part of the “broken windows” theory of policing — which calls for enforcement against minor offenses — spawned resentment among many in minority communities. That anger, amplified greatly by the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, helped fuel the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement. Protests have lessened in recent months, only to re-emerge within City Hall itself during a recent hearing on police-community relations.
Protesters chanted, “No new cops!” at a March 12 hearing where Police Commissioner Bill Bratton testified in support of adding 1,000 more officers to the force. Two days later, though, the focus at the memorial was firmly on the sacrifices and contributions of the heroic auxiliary officers, Pekearo and Marshalik.
“What the police do, in general, is protect us, and how could that be under question for the auxiliary police officers who were uniformed but unarmed and gave their lives,” said Terri Cude, first vice chairperson of Community Board 2. “I don’t see that there is a relationship between national political issues and this memorial.” Cude added that she attends the event each year.
Meanwhile, a bill announced at last year’s memorial by state Senator Brad Hoylman has continued to slowly make its way through the legislative process. If signed into law, the measure would make the penalty for killing an on-duty auxiliary officer as serious as killing a police officer.
“If you wear the uniform to safeguard the public, you should be protected from deadly assaults,” Hoylman said in a statement.
The bill was reintroduced this legislative session and referred to the state Senate’s Codes Committee on Feb. 20. A hearing has yet to be scheduled.