County officials, top police brass and rank-and-file officers paused Thursday night to honor Nassau police officers Michael J. Califano and Geoffrey J. Breitkopf, both of whom died in the line of duty last year.
"Everything you hear tonight actually happened," said Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, at the 139th Departmental Awards Ceremony. "This is not television. This is not the movies. This is real life, with real danger."
The two officers were posthumously awarded Purple Heart medals for making "the supreme sacrifice," County Executive Edward Mangano said during the event at the Kenneth Riland Theatre at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.
Though dozens of other officers were recognized for acts of bravery, skill and quick thinking while fighting crime or saving lives, the two officers' contributions took center stage.
"Unfortunately this evening we pause for a solemn remembrance of two police officers that made the supreme sacrifice here in Nassau County," Mangano said. "And it highlights the danger of this job and . . . the heroism that it takes to become a Nassau County police officer."
Breitkopf was fatally shot March 12, 2011, after being mistaken for an armed suspect by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officer in Massapequa Park. Breitkopf, 40, of Selden, was a member of the force's Bureau of Special Operations and was shot after a knife-wielding man had been killed at the scene by Nassau police.
Breitkopf's wife, Paula, accepted the award on his behalf.
"Perhaps the greatest sacrifice anyone can make is the loss of life in the service of others," said Chief Frank Kirby. "Officer Geoffrey J. Breitkopf offered a lifetime commitment of service to our community both in his professional life and in his personal life."
Califano's wife, Jackie and their sons, Michael Jr., Christopher and Andrew, accepted the award on his behalf.
"It is with a heavy heart that the Nassau County Police Department bestows the Purple Heart to Michael Califano's family," Kirby said. "Just as Michael did not stand alone when he took the oath, the Purple Heart signifies the department's commitment to stand by loved ones left behind."
With Zachary R. Dowdy