Behind the Badge: Melissa D. Levine ’12, ’24, NYPD, Salutes Dad’s Bravery on 9/11

Behind the Badge: Melissa D. Levine ’12, ’24, NYPD, Salutes Dad’s Bravery on 9/11

Behind the Badge: Melissa D. Levine ’12, ’24, NYPD, Salutes Dad’s Bravery on 9/11

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. In this article series, we get to know the man or woman “behind the badge” and find out what challenges and inspires them in their jobs.

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer Melissa D. Levine ’12, ’24 always knew she wanted to have a career in law enforcement because of the example her father, retired NYPD police officer Mark D. Levine, set for her. “From a young age, I had a lot of respect for my dad and the work he did as a police officer every day. He was down at the World Trade Center site on 9/11 and I was so inspired by his bravery that I became completely consumed by police work. I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” says Levine, who earned her B.A. in forensic psychology from John Jay and is working on her M.A. in criminal justice. “Today, I proudly wear the NYPD uniform and his shield number.”

“I was only 11 years old when 9/11 happened, but I’m determined to pay it forward and make sure that my fellow officers are safe and properly equipped.” —Melissa D. Levine ’12, ’24

Levine works with the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division training officers to safely respond to hazmat and terrorist-related incidents. “Post 9/11, the police department developed new tactical training and strategic planning to better educate and prepare our officers. The COBRA Unit (Chemical Ordinance, Biological and Radiological Awareness) was made specifically to meet the need for specialized equipment and training,” she explains. “I was only 11 years old when 9/11 happened, but I’m determined to pay it forward and make sure that my fellow officers are safe and properly equipped.”

Melissa Levine

Where were you on September 11, 2001?
Melissa: I was in school in Long Island at the time. I didn’t understand what was happening. I remember that one by one my classmates were picked up by their parents because “something bad happened in the city.” We took the bus home that day and were the only ones on it. When we got home, dad wasn’t there but my mom was. She didn’t really say much, but her face was red and puffy from crying. We went to school the next day not knowing if dad was ok. Later, we learned that a classmate’s father, an FDNY firefighter, had died rescuing people from the North Tower. Hearing this suddenly put into perspective that I might not see my dad ever again. When I finally did see him, I knew we were incredibly lucky, and that he, and every other first responder, was a hero.

Mark: I was working in the 109th precinct in Flushing when the first plane hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. Most of the precincts, including the 109, sent a van with one boss and eight cops to help with the evacuation of the Towers. I was one of the eight cops in the van. As we raced down the Long Island Expressway toward Manhattan, I could see the buildings on fire. I called my wife, who had been listening to the news, and she begged me not to go. When I told her that I was already heading down there, she told me to be careful. “Don’t be a hero. Come home,” she said, and I have never forgotten those words or that moment.

By the time we got downtown, the South Tower had already fallen. There was a lot of commotion and yelling and it was getting darker by the second, despite it being a beautiful sunny morning. We were ordered to run into the nearby hardware store and grab anything we could use for the rescue mission. I got a flashlight. When we got back into the van and drove over to the North Tower, I saw a cop walk out of a cloud of dust covered in ash. All of a sudden, we heard the building buckling, it was coming down. We yelled at the rookie in the driver seat, “Go! Go! Go!” and braced for impact, thinking the building would tip over and crush us. I thought that was it. He floored the gas and drove into the darkness. We eventually got back to the east side and could see a little better. We were thankful just to be alive. It wasn’t until the next morning, covered in ash and totally exhausted, that I finally got relieved and could call my family to let them know I was okay.

What do you want people to know about September 11th?
Melissa: I want people, especially the younger generation, to know the incredible sacrifices first responders made on that day. This was one of the worst tragedies this city and country ever experienced. It was a day filled with great uncertainty and fear. It changed the country in terms of security—we can see this every time we take a flight—and it also changed the city and how we live our lives.

Mark: Try to be understanding and respectful of first responders who were there on 9/11, and in the days that followed. So many continue to live with PTSD or illness because of that day. While I’m not as traumatized as I once was, reliving it by watching movies or video clips about that day stills gets me upset. It was such a close call. I almost didn’t make it. So many didn’t make it and so many continue to lose their lives because they worked on the pile after the attacks.

What is/was your job like on the NYPD?
Melissa: I work as an instructor and trainer in the COBRA Unit. I feel strongly about this training because the masks, equipment, and training are exactly what could have helped officers, like my dad, who responded to the 9/11 attacks. This training typically consists of a day of lectures and the remaining day or two is all hands-on exercises that dive into the importance of PPE, decontamination, and rescue tactics.

Mark: When I was in the NYPD, I was a police officer, conducting patrols. At the time of the attacks, I was what we call a summons guy, and rode around Flushing in a three-wheel scooter, writing moving and parking violation summonses.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Melissa: Knowing that the training I’m giving will keep first responders safe. It’s especially rewarding when officers tell me that they learned something new. The fact that they feel more prepared because of it means a lot. I truly believe that if this training had existed 21 years ago, it would have been really beneficial to those who responded on September 11th.

“It was such a close call. I almost didn't make it. So many didn't make it.” —Mark D. Levine, Retired NYPD Officer

How has your John Jay education enhanced your career?
Melissa: Education is really important in my family; I was the first person to graduate with a degree. I think continuing my education, especially at John Jay, made me a better officer and more well-rounded. I had a criminal psychology professor who had an impressive background in criminal profiling. As someone who is interested in how the criminal or deviant mind works, I listened to every word he said. Now that I am back at John Jay, participating in the NYPD Leadership Program and working toward my M.A., I’m enjoying every moment. Classes, professors, and programs like the ones at John Jay keep me up to date on the current climate of crime and justice.

 Levine (center) with her parents after graduating John Jay in 2012
 Levine (center) with her parents after graduating from John Jay in 2012

What advice would you give to future law enforcement officers?
Melissa: Have respect for the officers that came before you and for the sacrifices they made. Wear your uniform with pride and your head held high. As officers, we are the protectors of this city.