The Royal Bahamas Police Band played at the 2022 NJSPBA Convention
and provided a soundtrack for a week in which members found
multiple opportunities to work with and help each other.
A special section offering an inside look at the convention at Baha Mar, Nassau, Bahamas
Stories by Mitchell Krugel, Esther Gonzales and Dan Campana
Photos by Ed Carattini Jr.
Informational and inspirational messages combined with
memorable experiences to make this convention hum
By Mitchell Krugel
Nothing from E Street, Count Basie or any other historic New Jersey band sounded quite like the accompaniment at the 2022 PBA Convention Sept. 19-26 in the Bahamas. On the first day of meetings, the sergeants and other members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band played an unforgettable marching tune as its honor guard posted colors. And then the band crescendoed with a rousing verse of ”The Star-Spangled Banner.”
On the second day of meetings, the full 30-pieces-plus of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band attended again to perform the music Clayton Fernander, QPM, Commissioner of Police, has to, by law, enter and exit to. But prior to Fernander’s empathetic address to PBA members, the band, which also featured a vocalist, played a 45-minute set that elicited the loudest and longest standing ovation of the convention.
“It was so cool that it was almost as if I was watching something on TV,” praised NJSPBA Executive Vice President Peter Andreyev, the convention chair. “They played the national anthem better than I’ve ever heard it, other than like the Marine Corps band. It was something to see and hear.”
Music to conference and network by so magnificently underscored another productive, informational and memorable NJSPBA Convention. As a treat for members, PBA President Pat Colligan booked the Bahamian Junkanoo Band to perform at the convention reception.
The Junkanoo rocked into the reception with such a rousing presence that Colligan reportedly did a little dance when they passed him. Now, there are no confirmed reports of this, because the PBA president, showing his true understanding of the times, bolted after that quick shake before anybody could get it on video.
But this convention packed in that kind of wow on every level, that kind of experience. More than 1,000 members attended to make it the most moving PBA event since before, well, you know.
“I almost felt like this was the official end of COVID for us,” Colligan commented. “I watched the amount of people filming the band and just enjoying the entertainment. I mean, it’s tough to beat the band that’s pictured on the back of the Bahamian dollar bill.”
Fernander turned out to be as motivational as any of the speakers appearing on the podium during convention week. He didn’t mince words communicating a message that would resonate with any law enforcement organization in the world.
He talked about how the Bahamas, like so many countries, is facing the biggest challenge from the proliferation of violent crime. Fernander continued about how the source of the proliferation is the amount of guns getting through the many ports of entry in his country.
And then he proposed a way to address these problems.
“We can bring forth all the associations, all law enforcement partners across the board,” he explained. “We would come together to talk about ways to solve these problems. What do you think?”
It was that type of thought-provoking experience in the meeting room during convention week. From Prince George’s County, Maryland Sergeant Bev Perez’s emotional tragedy-to-triumph story to Philadelphia Sergeant Sylvia Young relating the plight of being attacked and shot 17 times to presentations about the progress in the PFRS and the work the National Association of Police Organizations is doing with Congress to squelch the defund movement, the podium was filled with intel that kept members in their seats.
In recounting surviving a shooting that killed the fellow officer whom she had intended to marry, Perez set the table for the resiliency and mental health and wellness awareness that marked many of this convention’s presentations. Including this takeaway:
“You can get through your worst day with the three L’s,” Perez began. “Learn to be vulnerable. Let go of ego. Lead with love. Your worst day does not dictate every day.”
As emotional as the speakers in the meetings were, what happened outside the room was just as vital at this event.
“Because it was our entire association hanging out together,” Andreyev confirmed. “They were able to trade industry secrets and share industry trends. The walls come down at an event like this, and that’s the whole point.”
Many of those conversations no doubt included comments about how the future is bright for
the PBA. The last day of meetings certainly accentuated as much when a new PBA executive board was sworn in.
And the next era for the association began with Andreyev being sworn in as executive vice president to take over for Marc Kovar, who officially retired on Oct. 1. When Colligan took the oath to take on another term as president, well, there was only one more momentous piece of evidence to make the case for how successful this convention was.
“Hurricane Fiona literally took a 90-degree turn and missed us,” Colligan reported. “No hurricanes ever do that. The convention smiled upon us, and it was great.”
Rising and Shining
Bev Perez shares her story of overcoming the line-of-duty death of
the fellow officer she loved and recovering from the brink of suicide
By Esther Gonzales
Prince George’s County Sergeant Mirian Beverly “Bev” Perez ran to provide aid to an officer on her squad, Jacai Colson. Shielding him with her body from the gunshots firing around them,
she held him tightly in her arms.
“Baby, I got you. I got you,” she recalls telling him.
But by the time Perez reached Colson, he had been hit in an ambush at the department’s headquarters in Palmer Park, Maryland, by a shooter who had a death wish. Colson was bleeding badly. Internally, too. His eyes rolled back as he still yelled out, “Police, police!”
Perez and several other officers carried Colson to the back of her squad car. A fellow officer took the wheel. She was in the back seat with Colson as they sped through the rain to the hospital.
While holding him in her arms, Perez locked eyes with the man she had been secretly dating. He had become the love of her life. Her soulmate. Only earlier that morning, Colson had alluded to their future together when he surprised her by saying he had bought a ring.
“I just remember holding him,” Perez recalled. “And he just looked at me. He closed his eyes.”
When they arrived at the emergency room, Perez was ordered to stay behind. The next thing she knew, her chief was saying, “I’m sorry, Mirian. Jacai is gone.”
In the following months, Perez spiraled into a deep depression. The PTSD of that day pushed her to the brink of suicidal ideation.
“This is the event that was the last day of me working as a police officer,” Perez related to NJSPBA members on Sept. 19 at the opening presentation of the 2022 Main Convention. “I essentially died that day with Jacai.”
Since that day in 2016, Perez has braved a journey of tragedy to triumph. The journey brought her to the PBA convention to share inspiring words and the smile that now fills every day for Perez.
“I want you to get in the mindset of becoming a 2.0 version of yourself,” she continued. “That’s what I had to do. I am a kinder, gentler Bev. A more loving Bev.”
This tragedy pushed Perez to the brink of PTSD and depression, until she attempted to take her own life. But it also emboldened her to find a purpose in her journey of growth. Perez now serves
as an advocate for first responders who have walked in her shoes, a message she delivered at the convention and one she provides to first responders in groups she facilitates for the FHE Health addiction treatment center in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
At the time of the shooting, Colson was working as an undercover narcotics investigator in an unmarked vehicle without a police radio. So when Perez got the call that there was a shooter attacking the station, he was her first thought.
She had broken her own personal rule for him: Never date someone on the job. He was a rookie at the time they started dating, and she was a superior officer. She had fallen in love with him as they spent time at the range together.
After Perez got the call of the shooting, she immediately called Colson to tell him to get out of the area. She flew to the scene. Officers at the station were barricaded inside, so they couldn’t get to the shooter.
Colson leapt out of his vehicle and fired 13 rounds. He hit the suspect, who was frantically firing at responding officers, headquarters and ambulances passing by. Thirty seconds later, he was shot, too.
During the convention presentation, Perez played the dash-camera footage for members. It wasn’t the first time Perez had relived the moment. This was a part of her journey.
“You ask me, how do I do it? Because I have to,” she related to members after showing the footage from that day. “I started meditating, and it saved my entire life. I need you all to understand
that I’m OK, I’m at peace. I could not stand here before you and show that video if I wasn’t. That was a tragedy. And I need you to understand that you can get through your worst day as well.”
The post-traumatic stress of the shooting and losing the love of her life pushed Perez down a dark path of depression. Perez admitted to members that even before meeting Colson, she had fantasized
about suicide a lot, and drinking had become a coping mechanism for her.
But that day drove her to the edge.
“It’s dangerous when you become numb,” Perez said. “And if you’re already numb, don’t wait until you’re on fire to put it out.”
Perez revealed that six years ago, alone in a hotel room, she made an attempt on her life. After finding out about this, her best friend reached out on Facebook to Perez’s parents, who immediately contacted hotel security.
What Perez remembers most from that day is looking at her mother’s face and asking, “Are you mad at me?”
With a look of desperation, she told Perez, “I’m not mad.”
“I did not want to see my mom ever have that face again,” Perez commented. “So I chose life for her, and I will choose it for me. I will choose it for [other officers] to advocate for our lives.”
Shortly after, Perez retired from the job. And although she requested medical disability due to being diagnosed with PTSD, she did not receive it. Ultimately, she was homeless for a period of time.
After undergoing therapy and adopting holistic meditation practices, Perez found a new purpose for her life.
“I’ve been homeless and suicidal,” Perez related. “But the next officer might not make it. What I want is change in the verbiage of the pension plan, change in the decision-making process, change in the decision-makers, and I want transparency. My priority is to be the influence for us. I have to lead by example. That’s why I shared my story with you all.”
In 2020, Perez founded ShieldUs, a nonprofit dedicated to retired and active first responders struggling with substance abuse and mental health. As a wellness coach, Perez facilitates workshops and wellness retreats, alongside mental health professionals, to offer self-help practices.
“I don’t hate many things, but I hate suicide,” Perez remarked. “If you’re struggling with PTSD, depression or simply not feeling like yourself anymore, your worst day does not have to dictate your every day. Please, please talk to someone. Be vulnerable. Let go of your ego.”
Perez continues to share her story with first responders to break the stigma of mental health. And to serve as a witness that, just as she did, they too can rise.
“After what I’ve been through, I had a vision where I was to stand on a stage and talk to a large audience,” Perez added. “It was a month after the shooting, and it was a weird vision. Because all I had on my mind was that I want to die. Now, here I stand, living that vision. I don’t know what you all believe in, but I was meant to do what I’m doing right now.”
Strength and Resiliency
Philly sergeant inspires members with story of survival
By Dan Campana
It would be easy to get lost in Sergeant Sylvia Young’s vivid and chilling story of being shot 17 times on a September night six years ago.
Young shares the horrific details of the ambush on a West Philadelphia Street not as a cautionary tale that reminds fellow officers of the dangers faced every shift, but as a means to address two key issues: the importance of wearing vests and of not overlooking mental health concerns within law enforcement.
During the NJ State PBA Convention, Young spoke poignantly about lying across the front seat of her squad car as a gunman repeatedly fired at her point blank, a miraculous hospital response in the shooting’s immediate aftermath and the journey she’s been on since 2016.
“It’s a story of survival,” the Philadelphia Police Department officer declared. “I am now back full duty. Of course, I can’t put my uniform back on yet. I’m still working through that. And I’ve never been back to the place where I was shot. So I still have little things that I have to deal with.”
But Young had an emphatic climax to her story to share with members.
“I stand here to say, anything is possible,” she confirmed. Leading a narcotics team, Young had swapped a Friday shift with another sergeant, which put her outside her usual district on that tragic night. Young didn’t know a great deal about West Philly but rolled right into things when a call came in for two officers in need of backup. She quickly learned the area was known for officers being targeted.
Young drove around the area, then she stopped to take a phone call. After a few minutes, something inside Young compelled her to reach down to grab something from her bag. That’s when the first gunshot shattered the driver’s side window.
“As I sit up, I feel the first round go into my shoulder,” Young, a 24-year veteran, described of the surreal moment when she realized she was being shot at. “The only thing I could think of was to lay my body across the seats as flat as I can. I just felt round after round after round after round after round go into my body. And suddenly, it stopped.”
That’s when Young did something she never had done in her career. She pushed the emergency button on her radio.
What ensued around her was more gunfire directed at responding officers. The shooter also took aim at seemingly anyone nearby, firing into a car with two occupants — killing one — and inside a nearby bar. Young somehow managed to climb out of her squad car and make it to the safety of fellow officers, who rushed her to the hospital.
There, doctors counted eight gunshots that had hit her body, all missing vital organs. Seven more had struck her ballistic vest, while two others damaged her service weapon, making it unusable. Shrapnel remains in Young’s body, including a fragment that sits precariously near her heart, but the vest prevented tragedy.
“I’m here to tell you, that vest … saved my life,” Young said.
Before concluding her remarks, Young spoke about mental health directly, pointing out that she — and all officers — have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder given what the police see and experience every day. Recognizing that she carried PTSD with her before the ambush, Young knew something wasn’t right as she recovered from the shooting.
“I told my captain, ‘Listen, I just need to talk to somebody. I’m in a really, really dark place right now,’” she shared. “The things we normalize in life are not normal. I realized that I needed help.”
Young said she sees a therapist twice a week, as she has since shortly after the shooting. Her experiences, as well as knowing officers who committed suicide, motivate her to be straightforward that no one needs to go it alone.
“There are so many avenues for us to get help. I stand here today to tell you that it works. It does work,” Young said. And she noted that her message is getting through. “My therapist told me that after my shooting … almost 60 percent of the officers that work in the district have been to see him. And they all say the same thing, ‘Sergeant Young brought it up.’”
System all go
The ongoing mission to keep PBA members in tune with the virtues of the independent PFRS precipitates an information session at every convention.
So PFRS Trustee Board Chair Ed Donnelly and Executive Director Craig Petzold joined PBA trustees James Kompany from Roselle Park Local 27 and State Corrections Local 105 State Delegate Ray Heck for a report on the latest developments.
Donnelly, the FMBA president, started by reaffirming how much better PFRS is functioning since it removed longtime Trenton bureaucrats from the decision-making process. The pension system has increased its value significantly without outside influences, he said, from the attorney general’s office and the wrath of legislators.
Then, Donnelly addressed the question many members want to ask him.
“We will get COLA back,” he pledged at the convention. “It will be done fiscally responsibly so active members will not have their pensions affected and municipalities will not be crucified.”
Petzold reported to members about the new PFRS website that will allow more time-effective communication for members. And he said that the first actuary report of the system’s assets revealed that the pension has a 70 percent funding ratio.
Kompany, the PFRS vice chair and chair of the oh-so-important investment committee, confirmed that the system is on schedule to take over management of its assets from the state by the end of the year. That will improve the funding ratio and set up a report in 2023 about the increases that will come with taking on asset management.
Heck didn’t need to do any fast-talking to convince members how much they are benefiting from the independent system. He said that the trustee board fought vigorously on the break-in-service rule to get it to 90 days.
He added that the board has gained a greater understanding of how injuries work in an effort to support members who need to take a disability retirement. And that PFRS is looking to get its own investigative unit to help members who deserve it get their disability retirement.
“There’s volumes of information being put out by this board,” Heck emphasized. “It’s no longer the old board.”
Looking at the numbers behind use of deadly force
Suffolk County Police Officer Michael Simonelli, a board member for his PBA, presented some data and thoughts about justified use of deadly force as a speaker at the National Association of Police Organizations national conference this past July in Cleveland. Members of the NJSPBA were in attendance and surmised that some of that information would be worth sharing at the PBA Convention.
Simonelli certainly has accumulated some expertise, having served 30 years in the military, being deployed to Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star and working in Suffolk County since 2000. He has done eight years as treasurer and two as sergeant-at-arms with the Suffolk County PBA.
Now, not all of his data and his perspectives resonated with NJSPBA members. But here is where he was coming from:
“Ours is a calm profession,” Simonelli stated. “And we get into it to perform, basically, for three reasons: We want to help real people. We want to arrest bad people. And we want to protect those
who can’t protect themselves.”
He presented many, many, many, many statistics, like noting that more than 12,000 anti police protests in the country took place following George Floyd’s death and left 2,000 law enforcement officers injured. And how that led legislators across the country to introduce bills to change the reason for lawful standing upon which deadly force is used and justified. And that 2021 was the deadliest year for law enforcement, with a 49 percent increase from the previous year of officers killed in the line of duty.
Simonelli reasoned how that emboldened criminals and criminality. And he presented that, in 2020, there were more than 60,000 officers assaulted, with 18,500 sustained injuries. And even with all those numbers, there were just 1,021 deadly police encounters.
“I looked at the factors of each of those shootings, and what do you think the biggest thing is about all the people who get shot by police?” he explained. “Failure to comply. And 90 percent of those people were involved in a crime where they were a wanted criminal.
It’s your call
At conventions gone by, the PBA’s Peer Liaison Committee and clinicians who provide help for members in need of mental health support or addiction treatment have made a keynote presentation on one of the last meeting days.
But this year, the peer liaison report had a time certainly reserved to accentuate the importance of this service for PBA members. Peer Liaison Chair Luke Sciallo, the Allenhurst-Ocean Township Local 57 State Delegate, commented about the accessibility of help, including plans to increase training about how to be your sister’s and brother’s keeper.
“My phone is always on, 24 hours a day,” he reminded members. “The peer response team is looking to promote the welfare of the members. So if a member is in need, just call, because we have so many resources available. If you see a member has gone to that dark place, don’t ask them to call. You make the call.”
Dr. Gene Stefanelli, the coordinator of clinical services for the PBA, joined Sciallo on the podium and emphasized how the union’s mental health support ensures that no information about members seeking help ever gets disclosed to their departments.
“The PBA set a precedent by hiring a doctor for members to talk to,” Dr. Stef said. “So let down your hair – those of you who have hair. The phones are on. All you have to do is call.”
NAPO amplifying your voice
National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) President Mick McHale loves to speak at the NJSPBA Convention. As a Jersey native, McHale feels like he is coming home any time he can address his sisters and brothers.
But this year he had a special delivery to make to NJSPBA members. And even the threat of a hurricane landing in Sarasota, Florida, where he works and doubles as Florida PBA senior vice president, couldn’t keep McHale from making it to the Bahamas. He even traveled an extra day to get there.
McHale wanted to tell members in person how NAPO, with the help of President Pat Colligan and Executive Vice President Marc Kovar, defeated the Police Reporting Information, Data, and Evidence Act, aka the PRIDE Act. The PRIDE Act, which would have required states to report officer-involved shootings and other incidents of use of force to the Justice Department, was dubbed the Cory Booker Bill because of sponsorship from the NJ Democratic senator.
“We assured Pat that your voice would be heard and present what is important to our profession,” McHale explained to members. “Pat is still waiting on that phone call from Booker. He chose intentionally to ignore what the men and women in New Jersey law enforcement had to say. But with the assistance of Pat and Marc, Booker did not get that bill signed into law.”
McHale came to the Bahamas to confirm for members how NAPO is doing this type of work on the most vital issues law enforcement faces, even though other national police unions are
not doing likewise. For example, NAPO worked with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott to push back on the bill to take qualified immunity away from law enforcement. As well as the George Floyd Act, which, incidentally, was backed by the National FOP and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
He also informed members how NAPO is overcoming President Biden’s reluctance to engage with law enforcement by working with Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department
of Justice. NAPO is part of numerous Justice Department committees and is having ongoing face-to-face meetings with DOJ to ensure the voice of law enforcement is heard.
“Police reform demands have dropped off,” McHale reported. “There are still civilian review board bills out there, but pressure to respond has disappeared overnight. The gun to our head has been lifted. With our continuing legislative outreach, it’s not a one-way street anymore. They are coming to us with ideas. Relationships have been built on trust and good information.”