Column: Protecting and serving miles from home

Perhaps you saw the images on TV in 2015 of the flames and black smoke coming from the CVS pharmacy on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore.

You almost certainly saw footage earlier this year of President Donald Trump’s inauguration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

In both instances, young men with North Fork roots were on hand, serving and protecting as members of police departments in the Baltimore-D.C. area.

Suffolk Times reader Anne Bialeski, whose son Michael is a sergeant with the Metropolitan Police Department in D.C., recently sent an email to the paper pointing out just how many local men are serving departments in that region. She’s even begun compiling a list that currently includes the names of 10 local high school graduates, mostly in their 30s, currently working in law enforcement in the capital region.

“A couple people said they know of others, too,” Ms. Bialeski wrote.

Sgt. Warren Jensen, 35, has spent the past 14 years with the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department. A 1999 Greenport High School graduate, he previously volunteered with the Greenport Fire Department, where his father is an ex-chief, and worked as a seasonal traffic control officer with the Southold Town Police Department.

His family has a rich tradition of service, whether military or fire. He knew from a young age he wanted to be a police officer.

One day while Sgt. Jensen was still working locally as a TCO, Southold police officer Bill Brewer said he should follow his brother Jeffrey Brewer down to Montgomery County, where the police test was currently being offered. Jeffrey Brewer, a K-9 handler with more than 17 years’ experience in the department, is cross-trained to work with a narcotics dog named Hudson and an explosive detection canine named Bronx.

Both Sgt. Jensen and Mr. Brewer serve on Montgomery County’s special event response team, which handles mutual aid requests for area departments.

“We were side by side during the Baltimore riots,” Sgt. Jensen said in a telephone interview. “The CVS fire, that was us. The liquor store fire, that was us, too.”

As a sergeant with Metro PD, Sgt. Bialeski, 35, has also been witness to several major news events.

“Let’s see, I’ve been through two pope visits, three inaugurations, several officials lying in state,” the 1999 Mattituck High School graduate said. “Just about every day I get to play a part in history.”

At President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, Sgt. Bialeski and Sgt. Jensen were posted just eight blocks away from each other, the latter overseeing a parade route while the former kept an eye on the new president’s route.

Sgt. Bialeski said he was “right in the middle” of the protests that day, surrounded by smoke and pepper spray.

“I’ve never been more proud of our police agency than the way we handled that day,” he said in a telephone interview. “We saved the city hundreds of millions of dollars from all the different fallout. It really lit a fire under my you-know-what. It helped solidify in me how much I care for the agency and everyone we work for.”

Both men said they take great pride in being able to work an inauguration, which each of them did for the two most recent U.S. presidents.

“Whatever your political affiliation, it doesn’t matter, there is nothing like getting that call, ‘Hey, we want you to come handle security for the president,’ ” Sgt. Jensen said.

They also admit to getting a little homesick sometimes. But they’re surrounded by other officers from their hometown. And they’ve each started families down there.

Sgt. Jensen said two of his good friends from the North Fork, Jeff Biggs and Al Dzenkowski, are also serving in law enforcement in Montgomery County. Robert Copas of Greenport does, too.

Sgt. Bialeski said he was working construction on the North Fork out of high school when Ryan McDermott, an investigator with the United States Parks Police, who graduated from Mattituck High School in 1998, called him to come down and follow his dream of being a police officer.

“I quit my job that day and left the next,” Sgt. Bialeski said.

One day several years ago the two men went out for a beer at a popular watering hole in Bethesda, Md. There they ran into Jensen and Biggs. They may not have been at the Broken Down Valise or the Whiskey Wind, but it sure must have felt like home.

Photo credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr

The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].