Suffolk County police honored 27 sworn members of the department who died in the line of duty at the department’s annual memorial service on Friday.  Credit: Morgan Campbell

Jennifer Wustenhoff Lees stood with her mother and sister at Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank remembering her father’s death, just as they have for the past 32 years.

They wore T-shirts, which read, “Justice for Det. Dennis J. Wustenhoff, End of Watch 02.15.90,” remembering the day the Suffolk County undercover detective was killed by a car bomb outside his Patchogue home.

Wustenhoff’s name was read with 26 other Suffolk County police officers who were killed in the line of duty between 1960 and 2021. Their names are inscribed on a memorial wall at the police department’s Yaphank station and on plaques in a memorial garden at the department’s front entrance.

Most names were adorned with roses or other flowers next to their photos. Wustenhoff’s family also left behind a hand-painted rock, vowing for justice. After the ceremony they met with District Attorney Ray Tierney. Wustenhoff’s case was reopened two years ago.

“We think of him every second of every day. When you lose someone, it’s hard to begin with, but our dad was murdered, and we have no closure for that so we’re working to find justice for our family,” Jennifer Wustenhoff Lees said.

The fallen officers are remembered annually during the department’s memorial service, where each name was read by Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison, followed by a bell tolling.

Harrison recounted the heroic acts of police officers delivering babies, making arrests in horrendous crimes, responding to the World Trade Center during and after the 9/11 attacks and braving the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To those in law enforcement when we were hit with a global pandemic, they continued to work, putting themselves and possibly their family members in danger of contracting a deadly virus,” Harrison said. “Unfortunately, I’ve had some low moments as well. Police officers, while doing the same protecting and serving, killed in the line of duty — not going back home to their families. How do families move on? How do you survive when a loved one paid the ultimate sacrifice?”

Harrison recounted the stories of officer Glen Ciano, who was killed by a drunken driver in 2009. Ciano’s family continued to carry on his legacy by collecting blood with the Commack Fire Department and advocating against drunken driving.

He also told the story of off-duty Officer John Jantzen, who was killed at age 32 when he arrived at a Lake Grove restaurant April 21, 1991 to find a man holding a woman hostage with a shotgun. When Jantzen tried to intervene, the gunman fired his shotgun, killing Jantzen, the man’s wife and a member of a cleaning crew.

Jantzen’s brother, retired Suffolk Police Inspector Harold Jantzen, attended the ceremony in his brother’s honor.

“It's a bittersweet thing and I appreciate the fact loved ones and fallen officers are remembered so widespread by the community,” Jantzen said. “It does drag you back to the same emotions, the loss of our brother Jack.”

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