During the final week of September 2020, Denis P. Mullaney quietly took on the role of commanding officer for the 107th Police Precinct that serves a swath of Queens from Kew Gardens Hills through Fresh Meadows, Cunningham Heights, and Hilltop Village. The area also covers parts of Flushing, Pomonok, Hillcrest, and Jamaica Estates. At that time, he also celebrated two decades with the department, and had just concluded a four-year stint as the commanding officer in the department’s Transit District 20 that broadly covered the scope of the 107th precinct. He replaced Deputy Inspector Scott Henry, who transferred to the Transportation Authority.
Mullaney, a St. John’s graduate, rose through the ranks of the NYPD, graduating as a police officer in 2001 and then becoming a sergeant in 2007. In 2013, he ascended to the rank of lieutenant and two years later became a captain. With a vast amount of experience, Mullaney was primed to take on leading our Central Queens precinct. Mullaney entered the area poised to gain control of the rampant property theft that plagued the area and hoped his expertise with petty subway crimes would help in foreseeing where the trouble stems.
As Mullaney’s tenure began, the department noticed a deafening surge in auto theft and grand larceny that has widely been blamed on motorists running an errand while leaving their keys in the ignition and a relentless out-of-borough crew stealing parked vehicles. Homeowners also dealt Mullaney with a flagrant drag racing issue that was a hot topic during an initial virtual meeting with the local Community Board 8. The members explained that the loud mufflers can be heard in nearly all corners of each sector within the confines of the precinct.
So, with quality-of-life as the central focus of the new commanding officer, the Irish American set out to better our lives while advancing conversations within the community.
However, the Queens native, while caring for the safety of others, was dealing with his own demons, which eventually got the better of him shortly after 5:00 p.m. this past Monday afternoon, April 5. The 44-year-old took his own life in a police vehicle at the corner of 164th Street and Underhill Avenue, an area that’s part of the 109th precinct overlooking Kissena Park.
As he contemplated suicide, Mullaney reportedly phoned family members and Executive Officer Captain Taso Karathanasis of the 107 and shared his intentions. Karathanasis wasted no time contacting the department’s technical assistance response unit and attempted to locate Mullaney’s cellular device. By the time officers arrived, however, the damage had been done; Mullaney was transferred to New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital where he was confirmed deceased.
Those in his command recall Mullaney’s humble demeanor and friendly warmth. Mullaney led his department with valor each day, always making himself available to those within the precinct.
Officers I spoke with thanked the community for offers of support and were reminded that his legacy remains alive in our hearts.
City Council Member James F. Gennaro responded to the death with an extensive Facebook posting explaining that the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) of the NYPD had informed him of the passing. “I ask for your prayers for this officer and his family,” adding, “May this officer Rest in Peace, and may his family be comforted.” Mullaney’s name had not yet been released, pending family notifications. Gennaro’s predecessor, Rory Lancman, only held a solitary meeting with the commanding officer but felt that the community was in good hands with Mullaney at the helm of the 107.
Mullaney’s death is the first active-duty police suicide for the year and follows two in 2020 and a disturbing trend from 2019, when ten officers took their own lives. Deputy Chief Steven Silks, executive officer of the Patrol Borough Queens North, was the highest-ranking officer to take his life just ahead of his forced retirement. During that period, the NYPD launched a suicide prevention program. Around that time, I joined the New York State Chaplains Task Force and visited several precincts where we encouraged officers struggling with mental health issues to phone our hotline for live assistance that did not subject them to department mandates. The NYPD offers a crisis line and asks their members to text “blue” to 741741 if they are in need. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available to those in distress at 800-273-8255.
Due to the pandemic, Mullaney was never properly introduced to the community, and he himself watched as nearly 50 members of the NYPD family succumbed to COVID-19. During the final week of last month, Mullaney was reportedly out sick, but the circumstances for his temporary leave remain unclear, according to officers.
Mental health has plagued the NYPD for years. Officers fear the negative results of revealing that they are on antidepressants or in mental health treatment. Officers would inevitably lose their rights to their gun and be relegated to desk duty. The officers also fear having their entire command knowing their private ordeal. These situations lead to further emotional stress, trauma, or substance abuse, which cause them to reconsider getting professional help. Over the years, the Department has made a concerted effort to reduce any perceived stigma or perception of adverse consequences that may be associated with seeking help, and hoped that depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be addressed through therapy and certain prescription medication. In recent years, the NYPD has changed its policy so that officers can keep their badges even if they are stripped of their guns while being evaluated for fitness for duty.
Deputy Inspector Mullaney is remembered as a hero who worked at the site of the 9/11 attacks and dedicated his adult career to the people of New York and his hometown of Queens.
By Shabsie Saphirstein