For You, My Brother

Newly sworn Paterson officer Bavennia Franklin carries on the legacy of her fallen brother, Tyron, as she takes on the unprecedented distinction of wearing his badge number

“Oh my gosh, it’s my brother,” Bavennia Franklin thought. “Those are his eyelashes.”

The lights of city hall glittered around Bavennia, reporters swarmed in the back and a cacophony of cellphone camera clicks echoed in an otherwise silent room. But the new recruit’s attention zeroed in on the long, dark and curled lashes of her 15-year-old nephew, Tyron Franklin Jr.

She read in his eyes the story of a life cut too short.

He pinned her badge onto her blouse – just like they had practiced in the hallway before the ceremony – blinking his lashes with intense focus.

The young boy is a feature-by-feature representation of his father, Tyron Franklin, a Paterson Local 1 member who was fatally shot in the line of duty on Jan. 7, 2007, at the age of 23. Tyron Franklin was Bavennia’s older, and only, brother.

“I was looking at his face and seeing my brother, his features in him,” Franklin recalled about watching her nephew at her badge ceremony on Dec. 18. “I was seeing my brother through him in a sense.”

Badge number 4637 was secured onto 28-year-old Franklin’s shirt. Her eyes immediately become hot with tears. She’s always felt close to her fallen brother, but at that moment, she once again felt him standing beside her.

When Bavennia now steps out in uniform, she is forever adorned with her brother’s badge number. The ceremony marked the first time Paterson has reassigned a badge previously worn by another officer.

Her new badge is a confirmation of the hours of physical, emotional and mental hard work it took to get there.

“Every time I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore or I was going to give up, I kept thinking about that moment of being presented with that badge,” she shared about the grueling past five months at Bergen County Police Academy. “I never thought in the past that I could do it, and I did it. I felt like [my brother] was there with me.”

The badge ceremony was an honor to Bavennia as well as an appropriate and immense response further honoring the legacy of her brother Tyron.

His death was the impetus for the NJ Cop Shot program, where the NJSPBA offers a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects involved in a shooting, stabbing, assault or other attack on police officers. Since its inception, NJ Cop Shot has put out hefty monetary rewards of nearly a half-million dollars in nearly 20 cases of law enforcement officers being attacked.

NJ Cop Shot is one more piece of Tyron’s unbelievable legacy of an officer who was a rooking at the time of his passing. Between his son’s familiar eyelashes blinking at Bavennia daily and feeling Tyron’s presence in the badge, she is equipped with a guardian as Paterson’s newest officer.

“It’s an eerie good feeling – you normally hear about bad families, but they’re a good family,” affirmed NJSPBA Executive Vice President Marc Kovar, who was part of the team that developed the NJ Cop Shot program in 2007. “He’s watching out for his sister. Hopefully she makes her 30-year career and he’ll be the angel on her shoulder.”

Community-minded people

Public service runs in Bavennia’s blood.

She was born in Marion, South Carolina, and comes from a tight-knit family of four: Her father, Larry Franklin, her mother, Belinda Howard, Tyron and herself. The family moved to Paterson, where both her parents are originally from, when Bavennia was 1 year old. After living there for three years, they ultimately settled in Westwood.

Her father, Larry, is a retired firefighter who served in Paterson for most of his career and climbed the ranks as the first black fire captain in the town.

Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale has known the family for years and confirmed that Bavennia’s upbringing of public servitude laid the foundation for the officer she is becoming.

“They’re community-minded people,” Speziale expressed. “I think it’s a family trait, but [Bavennia] is an extraordinary individual that’s truly talented, working with the community and understanding and building relationships on trust.”

Bavennia’s close-knit family is the most prevailing memory of her childhood. Tyron was her protector. Tyron was her adviser. Tyron was her confidant. But most of all, Tyron was one of her closest friends.

With an eight-year age gap between the two, it’d be easy for him to brush off his younger sister. But he never did, she quickly countered.

“Even though I would be so annoying, he would always accept me,” she laughed. “Even at that age he was older, usually someone would be like, ‘Get out of here,’ want to push you away. But he would let me come in and play with his stuff.”

When he started the academy in October 2005, 13-year-old Bavennia would run to her older brother before he even had one foot in the door to ask him about his day: “How was it?! What’d you do?!” she reminisced.

Tyron, who was 22 at the time, would sit beside her in the living room and gesture wildly about the dozens of miles he ran and the hundreds of push-ups he did. Bavennia leaned into listen, perched on the edge of the couch.

He was so expressive, it was like watching a movie. He would bat his eyelashes and his deep, brown eyes would dart back and forth – they were the eyes that Bavennia would never forget.

“The whole process, he loved it. He took the test, he loved the academy, he loved getting on the job,” Bavennia expressed. “I thought it was impossible. I thought I couldn’t do it, because it just is so challenging.”

Tyron had been on the job with the Paterson Police Department for eight months on the evening of Jan. 6, 2007, when Bavennia invited two of her closest friends over for a movie night. The Franklin family’s television had broken a couple weeks prior, so in its place, her dad set up a projector with a big screen in the living room.

Tyron passively watched the movie with the girls for half an hour before standing up and saying he was going to leave, but he’d be back later. The teenage girls quietly said goodbye, with their eyes still glued to the movie.

But Bavennia scrambled to get up.

“Wait, wait, wait,” she said.

She ran to give her brother a hug, and he wrapped her up in his characteristic, tight embrace.

“I love you,” she said to Tyron. “Be safe.”

Their mother gave him a hug goodbye and chatted for a moment, and with their father already asleep, Tyron headed out the door.

Still so strong

Bavennia felt the air leave her body.

Her limbs went heavy. She could barely hold her head up to look at the officers gathered at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson. When they went in to view the body in a small, fluorescently lit room, it didn’t feel real.

“I remember still seeing him and he looked just like him – I mean, you can see the wounds and everything – but I remember thinking he still is so strong,” Bavennia declared. “Even in this moment of him being lifeless here, he’s still sharp. He still conquered.”

Officer Tyron Franklin was in the Broadway Fried Chicken restaurant on Broadway near Madison Avenue in Paterson, off-duty and in plain clothes, ordering food around 1 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2007, when a gang member entered and demanded money from him.

After a brief struggle, the man shot Tyron four times. A witness yelled that Tyron was an officer, and the attacker shot him another two times as he lay on the ground. The suspect fled the scene.

The Franklin family was called as soon as Tyron was transported to the hospital, but he had made the ultimate sacrifice on the scene. He was survived by his mother, father, sister, fiancée and 16-month-old son, Tyron Franklin Jr.

A crowd of law enforcement officers gathered at the hospital that early morning as well, including now-Lieutenant Jason Bernasconi and a number of other Local 1 members who had been in Tyron’s academy class.

“I remember the exact phone call – I remember the exact day,” Bernasconi shared through tears. “I got a voice message, and I remember the voice message said, ‘Ty was shot.’ We all went to the hospital, and he unfortunately had passed away.”

The Franklin family was surrounded by endless support from law enforcement in the immediate aftermath. A sea of blue flooded Tyron’s funeral, and gloominess hung in the air at Paterson Police Department in the weeks following, Bernasconi explained.

And the NJSPBA was outraged. Tony Wieners, the NJSPBA president at the time, immediately reached out to the department and offered assistance after it was clear that the suspect would not be caught in the first few hours.

“The big thing is that we needed to send a message about coming after us,” Wieners shared about the NJSPBA’s role in the aftermath of Tyron’s death. “We’re going to do everything within our power to track you to down and make sure you’re held accountable for your actions.”

From that moment forward, Wieners promised that the union would never be unprepared to track down anyone who shot an officer in New Jersey.

Kovar remembers the donations that began pouring in to help find Tyron’s killer. The NJSPBA quickly developed the NJ Cop Shot program, which posts a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects who have severely harmed a law enforcement officer in the state. The legacy of the program, still in place today, is directly traced back to Tyron.

Tyron’s killer, 23-year-old Teddy Charlemagne, was arrested in Irvington on Jan. 16, 2007. On May 9, 2008, he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 37 years in prison.

“To this day, whenever I see an NJ Cop Shot sticker on the back of a police car, there’s this sense of pride of what the PBA did,” Wieners expressed. “We offer a huge reward for anybody who’s out there and tries to harm one of our officers. We put the bad guys in a position where they couldn’t trust anybody.”

Kovar is proud that monetary reward has grown so much, and the program is extended to every agency and organization in the state to bring criminals to justice, not just PBA members.

“We stick together,” Kovar affirmed. “No matter how bad it is or what the situation is, when times are the worst, that’s when we’re our best.”

I know he’s here

“’He would be pushing me,’” 28-year-old Bavennia thought as she ran in formation at the Bergen County Police Academy this past July.

Every step and labored inhale conjured thoughts of how hard Bavennia had fought to be there:

A civilian job with the records division of Paterson Police Department in 2016.

Packing up her life and moving to Paterson in 2019.

Hiring a personal trainer.

Studying and receiving a test score of 98.7 percent.

“’Please, Lord, please Ty,’” she thought, calling on both of them for strength as her calves stung and sweat dripped off her forehead.

She began to fall behind in the formation. One of her classmates came alongside her.

“You got this,” she yelled to Bavennia. “He’s there with you – keep thinking about that moment when you walk off the stage and graduate. You got this.”

All of a sudden, Bavennia’s lungs opened up. The aches melted away. Every step was a catapult forward, and she saw herself passing her classmates. Tyron was running beside her.

“’I know he’s here,’” Bavennia thought. “’He’s watching. Just show him, show him you can do it. He’s helping me now.’”

Just like Tyron had motivated his own classmates in the academy – “You couldn’t find a guy in better shape than him,” Bernasconi shared – he was now the angel on Bavennia’s shoulder. He helped her get through the dozens of miles and hundreds of push-ups that he had excitedly told her stories about 14 years ago.

And, when she needed that extra nudge to get through just one more push-up, she would think about their shared recruit number, 22.

“I never thought that I could be someone like [Tyron], because he was so strong in my eyes,” Bavennia declared. “I would be thinking about that, because I thought the push-ups were going to be the reason why I couldn’t make it through the academy. But they were so easy for him.”

Bavennia knew that if she could find just a fraction of Tyron’s strength, she would be able to finish what he started in Paterson.

Carrying on the legacy

She secured her badge – number 4637 – put on her uniform and smoothed out her hair.

Bavennia had been up the night before praying that everything would go well, that she’d be able to take in all the information and that the people she came in contact with would be understanding.

She felt rested, and most of all, she felt ready. She kissed her husband, Daniel Marks, whom she married in October 2019.

With a deep breath, Bavennia walked out the door on Jan. 11 for her first day as a sworn officer with the Paterson Police Department.

“It felt like, ‘OK, this is a nice start.’ I know these days aren’t going to be easy. They’re going to be hard, but I’m up for that challenge,” she relayed. “It gave me confirmation that I can do this job. You get little doubts that start creeping in, but I was like, ‘Nope, it’s OK.’”

On her first day, Bavennia parked in the department’s lot and walked from her car into work, just like Tyron had more than a decade ago. She was about to patrol the same streets he had patrolled, and it felt like she was in the right place.

“She chose to embrace the community and she chose to follow in those footsteps regardless of the danger, regardless of the pain and suffering that that family has gone through,” Speziale expressed. “She’s taken all that tragedy and pain and suffering and turned it into a positive. So the uniqueness of having her wear that badge and putting that badge into service, I believe in my heart that Tyron would want that.”

And Bavennia has high goals. She wants to learn the law, rules, regulations and procedures thoroughly so that she can elevate to sergeant, lieutenant “and who knows from there,” she laughed. She wants to achieve exactly what she knows Tyron could have achieved, and perhaps even more.

“She’s taking the same badge number as my dad and carrying on the legacy,” relayed 15-year-old Tyron Franklin, Jr. “She’s really confident. She worked hard for everything she wants, and she’s a role model.”

Bavennia is excited to embark on the new adventure in Paterson and become deeply engrained as a leader in the community. No matter what she encounters, Bavennia has an angel in uniform right beside her, every single day.

She is finishing the story of a life cut too short.

“There’s so much peace of mind know that when I looked down at every report I signed, I wrote his badge number,” the officer confirmed. “If somebody asked me, I’m so proud to give it, because this is Ty’s. He’s got me covered. God’s got me covered, and Ty’s got me covered. I’m set.”