Police Honor One of Their Own

By Stefanie Dazio; Hannan Adely | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Police Honor One of Their Own


Stefanie Dazio; Hannan Adely, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


Stephen Petruzzello joined the Cliffside Park Police Department as a special officer about a month ago, saying he wanted to make a difference in his community.

His impact on the borough and beyond was evident Saturday morning at his funeral, where hundreds of residents, friends, family and fellow officers from across the state lined a borough street -- at times four deep -- to honor the 22-year-old who died as a result of injuries suffered in the line of duty.

Petruzzello and fellow special officer Thaier Abdallah were on foot patrol a week ago when they were struck by a car as they crossed Walker Street. Petruzzello died Monday at Hackensack University Medical Center. Abdallah was not seriously injured. The driver has not been charged criminally, but received motor-vehicle summonses.

Outside the Church of the Epiphany on Knox Avenue in Cliffside Park, dozens of motorcycles accompanied a procession of police cars and the Police Pipes and Drums of Bergen County. A car drove wreaths and flowers to the church, including a badge No. 133 arrangement, denoting the number of the police badge that was awarded posthumously to Petruzzello, who had been working as a special police officer in anticipation of becoming a sworn officer.

"That was his goal," said former Cliffside Park Chief Donald Keane, who taught Petruzzello at Bergen Community College in 2013. Petruzzello would have graduated with a degree in criminal justice this year.

"He was very excited about learning about law enforcement," Keane said. "He was constantly asking me for advice."

Dedicated to helping

The Rev. Peter Sticco, who presided at the funeral Mass, described Petruzzello as quiet, compassionate and full of fun. Petruzzello volunteered at a soup kitchen and taught younger students at the Junior Police Academy, he said.

"Stephen did reach out to people [in ways] that are unknown to us today. ... He did it quietly in his own way," he said.

The service was broadcast on a large screen in the parking lot next to the church so that the overflow crowd of borough residents and police officers could view the service.

Petruzzello was close with his family, including his parents, a brother and sister, and a niece and nephew, and "he always had a big hug for his mother," Sticco said.

After Sticco's homily, the police in the church all stood and saluted.

As a Class I special officer, Petruzzello did not have full police powers; he carried a radio, handcuffs, a baton and pepper spray, but not a gun. But on Saturday, mourners said there was no distinction between his part-time role in the department and that of a full-time, sworn officer.

Englewood Detective Capt. Timothy Torell said he and other officers attended the service to show the Petruzzello family that their son was part of the police brotherhood.

"The point is, it's not whether he's a special or not. …

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