Port Authority, Surviving the Loss
Police Force Suffered Worst Single-Incident Loss in U.S. History
Listen to Chris Arnold's report for All Things Considered.
March 18, 2002 -- The Port Authority Police Department keeps watch on bridges, tunnels, airports and other posts all around New York City and New Jersey. The department was also in charge of policing the World Trade Center -- and on Sept. 11, hundreds of Port Authority officers responded to the call for help. Thirty-seven of them lost their lives when the buildings collapsed.
The toll of that September morning has been staggering on the survivors -- the Port Authority Police Department is a relatively small force, just 1,200 officers, and some of those digging through the rubble knew most of the 37 officers killed.
The Port Authority lost more officers that day than any police force in a single incident in U.S. history. Six months later, NPR’s Chris Arnold has been following some of the officers, and reports for All Things Considered that some are struggling -- both at home and on the job -- to put their lives back together.
"I try not to think about what they went through that day," Police Sgt. Kevin Devlin told Arnold. "I can't focus on it, because the anger would probably consume me."
Just one month ago, Devlin carried the body of his close friend Capt. Kathy Mazza, out of the pit at Ground Zero. Devlin is worried that the grim daily task of looking for bodies is taking a psychological toll on his fellow officers.
Port Authority Police Sgt. Kevin Devlin. Devlin carried the body of a very close friend out of the pit at Ground Zero, and still works 12-hour shifts at the site.
Photo courtesy Port Authority
"I do worry about the guys down here," he says. "You need somebody to talk to." He added the Port Authority has been making counseling available. Even so, many mental health professionals say they can't predict the long-term impact of all this on the officers.
And for those officers still working at Ground Zero, the event isn't over yet. What happens when it's over?
"I just remember... sobs starting to overtake me -- and then you choke them back," says Lt. Brian Tierney, who was at Ground Zero searching the rubble when official word came down that a close friend -- Officer Jimmy Nelson -- was confirmed dead. "You're figuring you'll deal with it later."
But for months, he says, when he'd try to take some time at home, or even at a funeral, to let some of these emotions out -- nothing would come. During the daily search for bodies, he would be flush with emotion -- but at home he was depressed, somber and exhausted. In just the past couple of months, he says things have been getting better. And his wife Denise says she feels like she's getting her husband back.
Both Tierney and Devlin say their families have helped to ease the hurt -- but they are concerned about the officers who don't have anyone at home to support them. All Port Authority Police sergeants and lieutenants are being trained to identify stress and depression in their officers, so they can encourage them to get into counseling.
Browse more NPR stories on the Port Authority.
Port Authority Police Memorial.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Web site.