In the late 1800's, the New York City Police Department established an honor board to recognize outstanding police work by its members. Members receiving an award were inducted into the 'Honor Legion.' With the appointment of Chief Wolf to the Yonkers Police Force, an article to the Rules & Regulations was adopted which provided for department recognition for its members. In those early days, awards were issued by the city administration with the recommendation of the chief of police.
Through the years, the regulation changed in scope and purpose, still leaving the decision for recognition in the hands of the police chief and the city administration. In the late 1940's after World War II, many officers, having returned from military duty, recognized the importance that an award had to morale and work productivity. Through their efforts, the Honor Board of Review was created to review the police work accomplished over a period of time.
The first task of the Honor Board of Review was to update and establish awards that are used in recognizing outstanding instances of police work by members of the Yonkers Police Department. These awards are still in use today and one, the Police Combat Cross, was added in later years. Today's Board awards six different honors consisting of the following:
- Departmental Medal of Honor - gold plated medal with blue neck ribbon; accompanied by a gold bar with twelve inlaid silver stars on a field of blue enamel. It may be awarded for any act performed intelligently in the line of police duty, at imminent personal hazard of life and with knowledge of the risk involved.
- Police Combat Cross - A gold bar finished with green enamel. It may be awarded for the successful performance of an act of extraordinary heroism while engaged in personal combat with an armed adversary at imminent personal hazard of life in the intelligent performance of duty.
- Honorable Mention - Five pointed, sterling silver embossed star affixed to a gold bar, finished with green, white, and blue enamel. It may be awarded for acts involving personal risk of life in the intelligent performance of police duty.
- Commendation - Five pointed, bronze plated embossed star affixed to a gold bar finished with green, white, and blue enamel. It may be awarded for acts of personal bravery or highly intelligent police work.
- Certificate of Excellent Police Work - A gold bar finished with green, white, and blue enamel with a number indicting how many certificates wearers have received during their careers. It may be awarded to individuals for specially intelligent police work.
- Unit Citation may be awarded to all the members of a unit for continued excellence in the performance of their police duties in connection with their unit's mission. This award should meet the criteria of Certificates of Excellent Police Work.
Since the creation of the Honor Board of Review, every year the Yonkers Police Department has granted recognition for outstanding work performed by individual members or units. Today's version of the board consists of a captain as chairman, and nine other members of the department including four police officers. All members volunteer their time and service. They investigate the reports submitted by commanding officers of acts of personal bravery or highly intelligent police work performed by members of the department. The Board also acknowledges awards issued to officers by recognized civilian organizations.
|1931 Sergeant Michael Gilmartin|
|1931 Police Officer William McQuillian|
|1932 Police Officer Robert Philp|
|1934 Police Officer Pat Whalen|
|1964 Police Officer Thomas Brink|
|1967 Police Officer Kenneth Zajac|
|1970 Detective Anthony Cerasi|
|1974 Police Officer Harold Woods|
|1978 Detective Angelo Pugliese|
|1978 Police Officer Alexander Raimondelli|
|1978 Police Officer Joseph Kostik|
|1978 Police Officer Robert Collins|
|1988 Police Officer Robert Chomiki|
|1988 Detective Anthony Baiocco|
The Medal of Honor is the highest award in the Yonkers Police Department. Those who receive it have been judged to have "performed intelligently in the line of police duty, at imminent personal hazard of life, and with knowledge of the risk involved." It has been awarded to only a handful of officers during the Department's history.
The first officers honored this way were given the award for incidents in the early 1930's. In January of 1931, Sergeant Michael Gilmartin and Police Officer William McQuillan, both motorcycle officers, arrived at family dispute on Warburton Avenue only to witness a homicide. The suspect's wife had fled from her husband to an apartment of a friend. Her husband broke into the apartment and began shooting. He shot and wounded his father-in-law and, just as the police arrived, shot dead the friend as she tried to escape. During the shootout that followed, Gilmartin was wounded in the head and McQuillan killed the suspect. Both officers initially received an Honorable Mention but the next year the award was changed to the Medal of Honor. Another motorcycle officer
Another motorcycle officer, Robert Philp, received his Medal of Honor for an incident in 1932. While pursuing robbery and murder suspects from Irvington, Philp was shot, but didn't even suffer a scratch. In what must have been a scene worthy of Hollywood, Philp pursued the bad guys on his bike, all the while shots being fired by him and the occupants of the fleeing car. During the gun battle, Philp felt a twinge across his abdomen. A bullet had ricocheted off his belt buckle and struck the leather strap that crossed his chest, slicing it clean through. The suspects were captured.
While the City had provisions for commending police officers for exceptional valor, no medal actually existed until 1975 when Lt. Martin Harding designed one. At that time, it was presented to four officers who had been cited between 1964 and 1974.
The honorees then were Police Officer Thomas Brink, Detective Anthony Cerasi, and former Police Officer Kenneth Zajac. Slain Police Officer Harold Woods received a posthumous medal which was presented to his wife, Dorothy.
P.O. Brink was cited in 1964 for attempting to capture a gunman holding up the former Dunwoodie Motel. He and his partner surprised the would-be robber and Brink chased him up a flight of steps and was fired at several times. Brink returned fire and the wounded robber was later captured by responding backup officers.
Foiling a stickup of a motel on Tuckahoe Road in 1967 earned Kenneth Zajac his medal. Zajac was working a plainclothes detail when he walked in during a holdup. Before he was able to identify himself, one of the two suspects fired a .45 caliber automatic at him. Zajac returned the fire as the robbers fled, still shooting. Once outside, Zajac shot both of the suspects as they continued to fire at him.
Detective Anthony Cerasi was awarded the medal for his capture of a bank robber in April 1970. Cerasi, a uniformed officer at the time and still with our department, was on patrol when he received a broadcast of a holdup at the First National Bank at 370 Warburton Avenue. A bank guard had been shot during the robbery. Cerasi spotted the suspect at the corner of Point Street and Woodworth Ave. He jumped from his car but was confronted by the suspect pointing a revolver. Undaunted, Cerasi drew his service revolver and ordered man to drop his weapon. The man dropped the gun and a sack containing $10,000.
Police Officer Harold Woods also received his award in connection with a robbery. He was shot when he surprised a robber in the A&P on Nepperhan Avenue in 1974. He died five days later.
Since that day in 1975, seven other Medals of Honor have been awarded. Four were in connection with a bank hold up on South Broadway in 1978. Detective Angelo Pugliese and Alexander "Lex" Raimondelli became involved in a shootout in which Raimondelli received a leg wound. The two gunmen fled in separate directions only to be quickly nabbed by Police Officers Joseph Kostik and Robert Collins.
One of the last officers to receive the award was actually the first one to earn it. On February 23, 1934, Police Officer Pat Whalen, of the Motorcycle Squad, saved the life of a little girl in front of the Proctors Movie Theater on So. Broadway. An electrical transformer shorted out and caused an explosion that created a massive hole in the sidewalk. Officer Whalen jumped into the burning hole where the child had fallen and handed her up to off-duty officers Ray Carozza and John F. Ryan. Within seconds another explosion erupted, incinerating Whalen. He died instantly. At the next awards ceremony, officers Carozza and Ryan received Honorable Mention awards but Officer Whalen was overlooked. When Capt. George Rutledge began the Historical Society fifty-one years later, his research uncovered this glaring omission. In 1985, based on his recommendation, Officer Whalen was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously at a Department awards ceremony.
On Feb. 18, 1988, Police Officer Anthony Baiocco and his partner, Robert Chomicki, were involved in an incident that awarded them the Medal of Honor. The two officers, while assigned to Emergency Services Unit, responded to a "shots fired" incident at 147 Waverly St. There they encountered a disturbed man armed with rifle and shotgun. The man was firing rounds in the air and at the officers and ignored their orders to drop his weapons. Just as he was taking aim at Baiocco, Chomicki shot the suspect, killing him. Baiocco credits Chomicki with saving his life, as does Captain Frankie Messar and many others at the scene that day.
A special thanks to P.O. Roberta West, Editor of 'The Call Box' for providing the information on our Medal of Honor winners.