The Fort Lee Police Department held its 9th annual Merit Board ceremony Thursday in Borough Hall’s council chambers, honoring their own for heroic deeds over the past year, as well as those of civilian members of the department, members and heads of other Borough departments and the public.
In his opening remarks, Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli said, "This being my ninth and final Merit Awards Ceremony, I hope that this tradition is carried on."
Ripoli called the annual ceremony “an important event” and a “morale-booster for the rank and file.”
Ripoli, who will be retiring at the end of the year due to New Jersey's mandatory retirement for Police Chiefs at 65, is the longest tenured police officer in Fort Lee history with 41 years of service. He presented each member of the Mayor and Council with a plaque in recognition of their support of the Fort Lee Police Department.
Ripoli honored all active police and borough employees who are veterans “in keeping with Veterans Day.”
Ripoli also recognized the Korean Vietnam veterans from south Vietnam who are members of Fort Lee's VFW. These veterans, in turn, gave Chief Ripoli a plaque thanking him for his support.
Ripoli also remembered retired police officers for their military service, "service to their country and their community."
Ripoli gave a special award to the daughters of William Birch, the only Fort Lee police officer to die in the line of duty.
"I've worked for five chiefs," Ripoli said. "Every one of those chiefs always showed respect to William Birch, and I expect the new chief to do the same."
Birch, who joined the Fort Lee Police Department in April, 1964, was shot and killed while responding to a holdup alarm at a hotel on Route 4 West in September 1966. As he arrived on scene, one of the two suspects exited the hotel lobby and shot him three times, killing him.
Birch's two daughters accepted the Medal of Honor Posthumous Award on behalf of their late father.
The Chief's Award was presented to Capt. Tim Ford, Lt. Robert Zevits, Det. Michele Morgenstern, Det. Robert Tilton, Police Officers Kevin Kosuda, Patrick Kellett, Theron Kelly, Glenn Iafrate, Patrick Cillo, Anthony Kim, Daren Baumgardt and Michael Bialoblocki.
The Junior Police Academy Award was presented to Det. Vincent Buda, Police Officers Anthony Kim, Thomas Keelen, Michael Bialoblocki, Deborah Siracuse and Christina Blue.
The Chief's Business Owners Award was presented to David Cafasso, Robert Cafasso, Bruce Holtje, Terry Holtje, Frank Vastano, George Gentile, Frank Patti, Tony Papavasiliou and Anthony Clemente.
Lt. Thomas Ottina, the presiding officer of the Merit Board, presented the police department awards.
Ottina said that prior to Ripoli establishing the Merit Awards Ceremony, he received a commendation when someone knocked on his door with a citation.
"We all share a lot of laughs," Ottina said, referencing his fellow officers. "But given the situation, that could change in an instant."
The Meritorious Service Medal was awarded to Police Officers Pat Kellet, Alejandro Lorenzo, Vassilios Triantafillou, Mark Radoian and Anthony Bozzetti.
The Life Saving Award was presented to Police Officer Carlos Carbrera.
Meritorious Service recipients, whose actions led to arrests in numerous cases, from aggravated assault, to illegal distribution of prescription medication and possessing and passing counterfeit money, included Lt. Stanley Zon, Det. Sgt. Ken Porrino, Det. Howard Ginsburg, Det. Douglas Cabler, Det. Ed Young, Police Officers Brett Howard, Marc Miskovitz, Michael Ferraro, Bryan Drumgoole, Dennis Pothos, Thomas Ripoli, Sean Peppard, Raplh Liquori, Mark Radoian, Christina Blue and Patrick Kellett.