The legacy of Nassau Police Officer Geoffrey J. Breitkopf, a member and instructor of an elite unit who was killed by friendly fire in the line of duty eight years ago Tuesday, will live on through a new North Bellmore special operations tactical training center named for him.
Breitkopf, 40, was mistakenly shot by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority officer in 2011 when they both responded to a Massapequa Park home where a man had barricaded himself.
A member of the Bureau of Special Operations, Breitkopf had been wearing plainclothes and carrying a police-issued M-4 assault rifle as he approached the home and was mistaken for an armed suspect. At the time, he was the first Nassau officer killed in a friendly fire shooting since 1976.
"I remember that day like it was yesterday," said Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, a former BSO member who went to Nassau University Medical Center immediately after the shooting. "I'd never seen grown men crying like that before."
On Tuesday, county officials dedicated the bureau's upgraded North Bellmore tactical house in Breitkopf's honor, making the announcement before scores of officers in the BSO unit wearing their specialty black uniforms. They recalled his commitment to the prestigious unit — he was even buried in its black uniform, rather than his dress blues, at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram — as both an officer and an instructor.
"Geoff was huge into the tacticals, he was huge into the training," said Lt. Jim Brown, BSO commanding officer. "He gave back to the unit as much as he could. … He lived for this unit."
The unit, considered one of the department's most difficult to get into, operates similarly to a SWAT team and handles incidents such as hostage standoffs and bank robberies. They also work in plainclothes in high-crime areas and handle high-risk warrants, among other responsibilities. Each member must be highly rated by his or her precinct commander and supervisors before being accepted onto the team.
The $8,000 tactical house was funded by the Nassau County Police Foundation with contributions from the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, officials said. The upgrades made to the building in North Bellmore — which had previously served as storage — allow the officers to train in motor vehicle stops, building entries and helicopter roping scenarios, among others, with instructors watching on a catwalk. The roughly 100-person unit worked since October to build the warehouse into a two-story "state-of-the-art" center.
Ryder called it as "real-life as you can get" training.
"There's dozens of different scenarios they can walk through," he said.
Cameras will later be installed so instructors and officers can review their practice sessions — a new feature that police said will help the department better its training.
The building includes a sign that reads "Geoffrey Breitkopf Memorial Tactical Training Center" as well as a large black department badge and a black BSO shield backlit in blue. The door frames also have the badge numbers of other fallen officers at the top.
“I cannot think of a better legacy for his work than this building,” County Executive Laura Curran said.
Previously, BSO officers trained in a one-story Bethpage warehouse a quarter of the size of the North Bellmore facility, officials said.
A 2012 report by then-Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice on Breitkopf's shooting found no criminality by MTA Officer Glenn Gentile or the officers who fatally shot Anthony DiGeronimo, the man who had barricaded himself.
Breitkopf’s widow, Paula Breitkopf, in 2015 settled a wrongful-death lawsuit she brought against the MTA and others. She and the couple's two young sons live out of state and were not available to attend Tuesday's ceremony.