Two Bright Lights Gone

NYPD Officers Rivera and Mora. RIP.

Two New York City police officers were gunned down last week, and I haven’t been able to shake off the story.

Sometimes I think we are numbed by the cascade of bad news so it’s oddly comforting to know that a story can still break through the clutter and hit you square in the heart.

For me, the deaths of Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera hit hard.

Sadly, officers are killed in the line of duty all the time. But something about this tragedy resonated deeply. What was it?

I thought about that last week, and I came up with a few answers.

First, it was the age of the two officers who died: 27 and 22.  I have sons around that age. It hit home.

These men were just starting their lives of service and that hit home too. What a tremendous loss.

I was also touched by the poignant words of New York Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell on Officer Mora:

“Wilbert is 3 times a hero. For choosing a life of service. For sacrificing his life to protect others. For giving life even in death through organ donation. Our heads are bowed, and our hearts are heavy.”

Doctors removed his kidneys, heart, pancreas and liver for lifesaving transplants, with five recipients identified and the organs delivered later in the day.

It’s tragic beyond words that his life was cut so tragically short after a domestic violence call turned disastrous.

Similarly, Officer Rivera, only 22, leaves a legacy of service and caring for the community.

He grew up in Manhattan as part of an immigrant family. He joined the New York Police Department with a goal of bettering the relationship between officers and the community — all inspired by his own family’s difficult encounters with police. Officer Rivera wanted to be a police officer so he could change those interactions. He wanted to be the first in his family to wear a badge. He achieved that goal only to be cut down in his rookie year.

These losses remind us that no call is routine for an officer.

It’s a dangerous business.

Over the years, I had the privilege to get to know scores of police officers in Delray Beach and a few in other jurisdictions as well.

I had the opportunity to “ride along” with many officers and special units and got a glimpse of what they are up against.

I know it was just a glimpse, but it was enough to convince me that a good police department is absolutely essential if you want to live in a good city.

That goes for fire as well.

If you can’t offer safety in your community—you have nothing. It all starts with safety.

Back in my ride along days which started in the 1980s, Delray officers were combating the scourge of crack cocaine which led to violent crime and turf wars.

These days, officers are up against opioid addiction, mental illness, homelessness and more.

As we have seen, officers are also up against people who are heavily armed. The two officers in NYC were cut down by a gun that was modified so that it functioned as a machine gun.

We’ve spent the better part of the last few years knee-deep in a debate about policing in this country.

That debate has been divisive and at times ugly. Like a lot of things in this country and frankly our own city these days.

Why does it always have to be that way? Why does it always have to turn ugly?
Why do we feel the need to demonize those who disagree with us?

But maybe the better question is where are we? What does all of this mean and where does it lead?

I would argue that hatred breeds more hatred and violence breeds ever more violence.

Where is the light?

Where is the light to brighten these dark days?

Last week, we met with our financial advisor for our annual check-up.

For the first time in my memory, civil unrest was mentioned as a potential risk alongside the usual bogeymen– inflation, recession, and volatility.

Civil unrest? In America? Yes, it can happen here.

Recently, I saw Congressman Adam Schiff give a speech to the Forum Club.

His new book is called “Midnight in Washington” and it discusses a raft of threats to our Democracy: election integrity, hyper partisanship, division, and everyone walking around with their own set of facts.

It’s an awful lot to process; an awful lot to live with day after day.

It’s dark at midnight…but darkness is also followed by light but only if we work to make it so.

Last week, two bright lights were lost in Harlem when they walked down a hallway and were met by a hail of gunfire. All of their promise…all they had to give this world …gone forever in a spasm of nonsensical violence. When you read something like that and allow yourself to absorb the enormity of it, you realize there are no do-overs. All of their potential gone in a few seconds.

We cannot afford to lose our bright lights.

On the internet, I found a letter that Officer Rivera, age 22, wrote to his commanding officer at the police academy.

“When I applied to become a police officer, I knew this was the career for me,” he wrote. “I would be the first person in my family to become a police officer. Coming from an immigrant family, I will be the first to say that I am a member of the NYPD, the greatest police force in the world. Growing up in New York City, I realized how impactful my role as a police officer would be in this chaotic city of about 10 million people. I know that something as small as helping a tourist with directions, or helping a couple resolve an issue, will put a smile on someone’s face.”

We need more people who long to put smiles on people’s faces and a lot less of those who seek to do harm.

Rest in Peace Officer Rivera.

Have mercy on us all.



  1. Thanks Jeff for reminding us how “routine” calls can easily turn into a catastrophic event. Police Officers are at risk much of the time. Fire Fighters, Paramedics, Life Guards, and Dispatchers often see simple responses develop into major risks both to themselves and the public in seconds. Events can get out of control without any warning. People can die before your eyes in seconds.

    You are correct – a community that can’t provide safe streets, safe venues, and adequate resources to manage the unexpected, doesn’t stand a chance of success. Community support and involvement must be more than just something that is talked about – it must be a “living thing”, and practiced daily.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks Chief. Words of wisdom from a proven leader in the field. We deeply appreciate your service and leadership.

  2. Frances Bourque says

    Community Support and Involvement rings true is every successful community! Chief, you made that a living definition in your service and that of your men. Pray God, we can return to a city that Listens, once again! Or else, all we worked for is lost! Stay well.

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