Fallen NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen honored with street co-naming

By Jessica Meditz

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Community remembers Detective Brian Simonsen at a street co-naming in his honor.

Family, friends and the community at large gathered in Richmond Hill on Saturday to honor the life and career of NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen.

A brand new street sign that reads, “Detective Brian Simonsen Way” was unveiled at the intersection of 118th Street and Jamaica Avenue, in the heart of the 102nd Precinct — where he served his entire career for 19 years.

In 2019, Simonsen was killed in the line of duty while responding to an armed robbery in-progress at a T-Mobile store in Richmond Hill.

Although his life was cut short at 42 years old, he continues to be loved and admired by many for his devotion to the precinct and the people he served.

“We ask so much from our officers; we ask them to unflinchingly put themselves between the threat and the threatened. Brian answered that call,” said Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

“Co-naming this street is a small gesture for a great man that offered his life for New York City. We owe a debt we can never repay,” she continued. “Still, this ensures that future generations will forever know the legacy of a man who dutifully served his city. They will see the name of a courageous officer and learn the story of how he lived, remember the life of his service and know the will of a protector of this city.”

Upholding his well-known, passionate work ethic was Detectives Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo, who pointed out that Simonsen wasn’t even assigned to work at the time of the incident, but went into work anyway because of his “dedication, knowledge and experience.”

“He went back to work to serve the people of his city, and that cost him his life. He will always be a legacy in the New York City Police Department and in the DEA,” DiGiacomo said. “He was a true hero, a true mentor to many and he’s dearly missed by the DEA and his family.”

District 29 Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, who represents the Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill neighborhoods, saw the street co-naming in Simonsen’s honor as a long-awaited achievement, as her predecessor, Karen Koslowitz, put in the legislation for it, and her own office brought it over the finish line.

She commended his loyalty to the 102nd Precinct and the courageous work he did for the community.

“[Simonsen] rose through the ranks from uniformed patrol to detective and was loved by everyone in the precinct and the community. Detective Simonsen represented the best of the NYPD,” Schulman said. “The street sign…will forever remind people of the hero he was, and let everyone know he will never be forgotten.”

Known for his positivity and cheerful personality, Simonsen was nicknamed “Smiles” by his loved ones.

He also had a great love of animals, which led the NYPD to name a K9 officer serving in counterterrorism after him, by the name of Simo.

K9 officer Simo, named in honor of Simonsen.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz commended Simonsen’s wife, Leanne Simonsen for her strength and leadership when it came to starting a foundation in her husband’s name.

The Detective Brian “Smiles” Simonsen Memorial Foundation continues to keep his legacy alive by giving scholarships to students and financial assistance to families and businesses in the Riverhead community, where the Simonsen family resides.

The foundation has “also assisted in vesting Police K9 dogs and are expanding in assisting animal rescues,” according to its website.

Leanne Simonsen expressed her gratitude to various members of the Queens community, as well as her NYPD family for always being there for her.

Leanne Simonsen said that the 102nd Precinct has become “like family.”

“We’re all going through the same thing, and we lift one another up when we’re at our lowest,” she said. “I can call them any time I need. This is so special to me, the family, friends of Brian and the 102.”

“The 102 Precinct are family — old, new, I love them all. Today is for us and to always remember Brian and keep his name alive.”

In Our Opinion: Local news is not a competition

Two weekends ago, Councilman Bob Holden honored the late, great Maureen Walthers, the long-time matriarch of the Ridgewood Times, with a street co-naming on Woodbine Street in Ridgewood, where she called home.

Walthers served as the first female editor of the Ridgewood Times, as well as its executive vice president and co-owner.

She went on to purchase the paper in 1983, and eventually launched the Times Newsweekly, extending to other parts of Queens.

Her contributions to the neighborhood also include her involvement in Community Board 5 and Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation, her efforts to preserve and landmark the Onderdonk House and co-founding the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society — among many other commendable endeavors.

Walthers passed away in 2020 after an illness, and dozens of people gathered on Aug. 27 to celebrate her work as a journalist and civic leader, and reminisce on her kind, witty personality.

But what should have been a wholesome event to commemorate her life and legacy quickly turned sour when speakers on the mic made strange, competitive remarks pitting the Ridgewood Times and other local papers against each other.

“The Ridgewood Times at that time was the newspaper. The layout of the Ridgewood Times was again, the most complete, the most professional, and it rivaled actually many, many daily newspapers,” Holden said.

Sheesh, Bob. That’s a perfectly fine opinion to have, but to say it on the mic in front of a crowd of people, which included reporters from said papers, is a bit awkward.

Many of Walthers’ close friends and loved ones took turns on the mic to reminisce. The comments got weirder as the ceremony went on.

Outgoing Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan said that local journalism should be about what Walthers exemplified: “fearless, fun and community-focused,” and that although other papers “try,” she misses what Walthers brought to the table.

Another community resident who’s known Walthers since the ‘70s even went as far as suggesting that other local papers misrepresent people and events, and the Ridgewood Times always got it right.

“Any time you wanted to put something in [the Ridgewood Times], *boom* it was in. And it was always put in a great light,” he said. “Those of you who might’ve been portrayed in other papers or in other media and say, ‘That’s not really what happened,’ but with the Ridgewood Times, it really was what happened.”

News flash: it is not a journalist’s job to portray people and events in a “positive light,” it’s our job to seek the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly — and report it to our readers.

Any journalist worth their title will promptly make a correction or retraction if something was somehow taken out of context or misinterpreted in any way. Reach out to us and start a dialogue if that’s ever the case.

The Ridgewood Times has done and continues to do admirable work for the community, and Maureen Walthers’ work in the newspaper business serves as inspiration for all young reporters, especially young women.

But for elected officials and community leaders to make her event a competition is a blatant slap in the face to reporters at other newspapers who work tirelessly to provide readers with relevant local news.

In the same way that politicians represent a community whether people like it or not, established local newspapers influence and serve thousands of readers in the community —  whether politicians like it or not.

We should all aim to work together to provide the most factual, up-to-date news to our communities.

The remainder of Walthers’ street co-naming event was lovely, revealing fond memories of her along with a shiny new street sign that reads, “Maureen Walthers Way.”

Based on Maureen’s personality and life philosophy, she wouldn’t have appreciated the needless, subtle digs at other papers. We knew her well. She was a true pioneer in our industry and she believed as we do, in the growth and prosperity of our communities. Local papers are a strength of the neighborhood.

Her work at the Ridgewood Times speaks for itself.

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