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Amid COVID-19 pandemic, a nontraditional NYPD promotion ceremony

Officers being promoted to detective salute during an

Officers being promoted to detective salute during an NYPD promotion ceremony in 2019. Thursday's promotion ceremony took place with no relatives in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The NYPD promotion ceremony — a traditional showcase event complete with a band, dignitaries and an auditorium filled with family and friends — is now radically cut back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday’s promotion ceremony was in name only. Officers getting elevated in rank, promoted to detective or given a bump up in executive status, trooped into the auditorium at the College Point Police Academy to raise their right hands to take an oath. But no family members were present and all of the honorees, instead of being called to the podium to shake the hand of the Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, simply listened to him via a video link.

According to First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, the promotion ceremony was just the latest bit of tradition drastically modified as the NYPD adjusts to the realities of life in the pandemic.

“Why do promotions at all?” Tucker asked rhetorically in an interview with Newsday. The answer, he said, is that recognition of performance in a time of crisis is important, now more than ever.

“In my view [we have] to recognize the folks who do the job every day,” Tucker said. ”While the virus has taken us into uncharted territory, our people are out there doing the job everyday … it is clearly important that we recognize those who do good work.”

For Thursday's event, those being promoted were seated at the appropriate social distance while wearing masks. Among the honorees were 14 officers being promoted to the rank of detective, those elevated to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant, as well as those breaking into the higher executive ranks of inspector, Tucker said.

Still, while the promotions generally mean pay raises and elevated status, the muted nature of the ceremony was in stark contrast to past events that included a stirring film prelude, a police band, and hundreds of doting family members giving shout-outs and applause to the honorees at police headquarters in lower Manhattan.

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“Since Day One there have been promotion ceremonies at police headquarters,” said former NYPD officer Michael Bosak, who has been recognized over the years as an unofficial police department historian.

To give enough social distance, Thursday’s promotions were spread out among three hourly time slots beginning at 9 a.m., officials said.

Meanwhile, after canceling the April police academy class, recruits who were scheduled to start NYPD training earlier this month will be combined with the class slated to begin in early July, Tucker said. The July class will total about 1,163 recruits, the largest since 2015 when the department started scheduling smaller quarterly classes, Tucker said.

While the academy enforced social distancing and protective measures such as masks for the class that graduated in March, some cadets and academy staffers tested positive for COVID-19, Tucker said, adding that 11 recruits tested positive but recovered and were allowed to continue their training.          

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