As lieutenants in the NYPD, Steven Weiss and Michael Ryan have high-profile jobs. Weiss, 41, is commander of the active 115th Precinct detective squad in Jackson Heights, Queens, while Ryan, 49, is assigned to the office of the first deputy commissioner at police headquarters.
As important as those jobs may be, Weiss and Ryan said their activities in uncovering the histories of officers who died in the line of duty — sometimes over a century ago and also on Long Island and elsewhere — gives them a great sense of fulfillment and pride.
“It’s a good feeling, something you take a lot of pride in,” said Weiss, who like Ryan is a Nassau County resident. “I have done a lot in my career, and I would rate this up there as one of the top accomplishments, in finding these officers.”
“It is more of a sense of pride that you were able to find a brother officer or sister officer, and they are not going to be forgotten,” Ryan said in describing the importance of their mission.
Poring over dusty records in precinct basements, old autopsy reports and newspaper clips, along with faded photographs, Weiss and Ryan investigate how NYPD officers died and whether they died in the line of duty and are thus eligible to be placed on the memorial plaques at One Police Plaza, the NYPD headquarters building in downtown Manhattan. That memorial now has 934 names going back to 1849, scores of them thanks to the efforts of Ryan and Weiss.
In a department with decades of rich history, the duo has become — as NYPD spokesman Det. James Byrne called them — the “never forget squad.” It is a task they took upon themselves to do.
Both men, who sat recently for an interview with Newsday, are also involved in nationwide police-memorial efforts. Weiss is research director for the Officer Down Memorial Page website, while Ryan is the NYPD liaison to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington and the New York State Police Officers Memorial in Albany.
Ryan and Weiss each came to the task via different routes.
Weiss was a newly minted officer in the 67th Precinct when he noticed two station-house plaques honoring two officers. Shy about asking older cops about the two men, Weiss said he looked up details on the Officer Down website. Soon, on his own, Weiss was sending Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit group, information he found about other officers whose deaths had gone unnoticed, including one cop who died in the 1850s in a building collapse.
“It piqued my interest that there were some officers missing, so I started doing additional research and came across more,” remembered Weiss. “Then I started finding officers outside of New York City.”
Among the Long Island law enforcement officers discovered by Weiss were the deaths of Oyster Bay Police Officer David Burnham Naar in 1930 and Sgt. William Hurley of the Oyster Bay Cove police in 1940, both of whom died while chasing speeding motorists.
Ryan, who previously worked in the NYPD personnel department, has been compiling names of those who died on 9/11 and as a result of illness attributed to their work at Ground Zero. He is the person responsible for incorporating those names — now totaling 157 — on a special memorial plaque inside police headquarters. The plaque will be expanded next year.
Working together, Weiss and Ryan acknowledge they built upon the past effort of retired NYPD Officer Michael Bosak, whose research uncovered about 45 line-of-duty deaths in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The research can be tedious and frustrating, although digital newspaper databases have made things easier. Back in the 19th century, cops often died of injuries such as falling off horses or when crushed by horse-drawn wagons.
In more modern times, officers died in auto accidents, building collapses, falls, by electrocution and even fireworks accidents. If an officer is found to have died in the line of duty, the duo submits the name, along with supporting documentation, to a special Honor Committee chaired by First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker and composed of the nine major NYPD bureau chiefs.
The definition includes those who die off-duty while pursuing suspects or performing rescues.
While the work is satisfying, Ryan and Weiss each have had the sad experience of having to honor cops they worked with who were either killed in the line of duty or died in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Still, there is solace when the families come and see the names of loved ones on the memorial wall.
“The one thing that is important, [is] to bring a family down here and show them we never forget your loved one, no matter how long ago. That is the important thing,” Ryan said.