Behind the Badge: John Denesopolis ’94, Police Command Professional for the Port Authority Police Department

Behind the Badge: John Denesopolis ’94, Police Command Professional for the Port Authority Police Department

Behind the Badge: John Denesopolis ’94, Police Command Professional for the Port Authority Police Department

Since its inception, John Jay College has been an institution proud to educate public safety leaders in law enforcement, fire suppression, and emergency medical services. Every day, these brave members of our community work hard to keep us safe. We’re continually grateful for their service, and in recognition of their considerable contributions to our safety, we’re dedicating our “Behind the Badge” series to them. In these articles we get to see the man or woman “behind the badge.” We get to know what inspires them, understand what challenges them, and most importantly learn about their jobs through their own thoughts and experiences.

The first officer in our series is alumnus John Denesopolis ’94, Police Command Professional for the Port Authority of New York and New Jerseys Port Authority Police Department (PAPD).

“Public service is in my family’s blood.” —John Denesopolis

Who or what inspired you to embark on a career in law enforcement?  
My father had many friends who were police officers. He saw that they felt fulfilled by helping people, so he inspired me to take the police test. He had great confidence in me and saw something in me that made him believe I could be a successful police officer. My father was also a civil servant and he had a 31-year career as a Parks Department Laborer. I am one of six children; one brother is also a police officer, another brother works for the fire department, two sisters are school crossing guards, and another sister is a nurse. In addition, my wife and I—her name is Maureen and we’ve been married for 34 years—we have a son, John, who is a vascular surgeon, and daughter, Meaghan, who is a teacher. I guess you could say that public service is in my family’s blood.   

What does a typical day look like for you on the job?  
I oversee the day-to-day transportation police operations and ensure the nation’s “Busiest Bridge” and its community and commerce are safeguarded. In 2019, 104 million vehicles crossed the George Washington Bridge, including many trucks carrying vital cargo, such as medicine, food, and other resources to our nation’s northern corridor, making it an attractive target for terrorism. The George Washington Bridge Bus Station receives 1,000 buses daily and sees 18,000 passenger trips a day. In addition, the Station includes a commercial mall containing 120,000 square feet of retail space and a community center that serves as a cultural hub where immigrant families from all over the world have passed through. The Center provides space to accommodate community events, workshops, and cultural development programs. My duties at the Bridge include fostering community partnerships, critical infrastructure protection, emergency response and management, crime analysis and strategies, personnel deployment, supervision, training, technology, budgeting, discipline, integrity, coordination with facility operations, security managers and mutual aid partners, coordinating special events, counter terrorism initiatives, tabletop exercises and conducting emergency preparedness drills to ensure the safety and protect critical infrastructure.  

“I was so proud and impressed by the bravery, dedication, and selflessness displayed by my colleagues on September 11.” —John Denesopolis

Describe your best day on the job. What happened that day to make you proud, happy, or encouraged? 
I was so proud and impressed by the bravery, dedication, and selflessness displayed by my colleagues on September 11, 2001. I was assigned as a Lieutenant Commander in the NYPD’s Staten Island Narcotics Unit. That morning I received a call from my wife that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I turned the television on and saw that a second plane hit the buildings. I knew at that moment our nation was at war. I called the Unit base and requested that all personnel be recalled, we had all worked into the early morning hours the day before after executing several search warrants and processing the arrests associated with an investigation into a drug gang. I was informed that everyone was calling in and they were all on their way to work. Everyone wanted to help in any way they could. Throughout that day, and several months after the attacks, we were at Ground Zero, the City morgue, and the Staten Island dump performing rescue, recovery, and security operations.      

“Only through open and honest dialogue can we bridge the gap to improve the perception of the police.” —John Denesopolis

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? 
Changing the community’s perception of the police is by far the most challenging aspect of policing today. I believe maintaining an open line of communication with community members and being transparent is essential to improving police-community relationships. Only through open and honest dialogue can we bridge the gap to improve the perception of the police. Also, this critical relationship is a process and must always be worked upon.   

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?   
The most rewarding part of my job is that it allows me to be able to be a servant leader in the communities we serve, to the officers under my charge, and to the transient and motoring public travelling through the George Washington Bridge facility. I am truly gratified by the ability to be of service and to assist people. I thank God every day that he put me in a position to lead an impactful life.   

“I credit my time at John Jay College for teaching me to be open and accepting of diverse opinions, and to my becoming a proficient communicator.” —John Denesopolis

How has your John Jay education enhanced your career? 
I credit my time at John Jay College for teaching me to be open and accepting of diverse opinions, and to my becoming a proficient communicator. John Jay was the first step in my educational journey and it inspired me to continue on to a graduate education. John Jay also prepared me for a variety of leadership roles over my 36-year career within the NYPD and PAPD. 

What advice would you give to future law enforcement officers? 
Law enforcement careers pick you. Anyone seeking a career in law enforcement must jump in with two feet. I recommend that when seeking a job, apply for everything. When you begin working, try to learn all you can and take advantage of any of the opportunities that are made available to you, such as training or promotional opportunities. Always continue to pursue your dream job and use the training and experiences that you learn along the way to get it. I never considered my job “work” because I love being able to help people in need.   

What do you want the public to know about your job?  
Policing and law enforcement is a challenging profession and is often thankless. In many instances, officers must make split-second decisions that can determine life and death. In my experience, the professionalism and restraint exercised daily by officers is remarkable and selfless. Our nation’s police officers are on the front line, safeguarding our communities from crime and terrorism. I advise the public to personally get to know the officers who work in their communities. I believe they will be surprised to learn that the officers care about the community as much as they do.