November 18, 2023

Memories of working on Thanksgiving


PERF members,

Policing can’t take a day off, so officers often end up working on holidays when they’d rather be home with their families. But working a holiday shift can lead to meaningful moments that remind officers why they chose this profession. I asked a few people to share a memorable Thanksgiving spent on the job.


Detective Robert Zajac, NYPD Emergency Service Unit

Around 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving in the early 2000s, we were asked to respond to a family dispute. The fight was over something very trivial, but emotions were running very high. We took the time to speak with all parties involved, and we actually got them laughing at what they were fighting about. The family members hugged it out and invited us to stay, but we respectfully declined as we had to get back to other jobs. We spent less than an hour there, but it made a big difference as the family was able to go back and enjoy the rest of their Thanksgiving together.

Another memory is from a Thanksgiving parade in the early 1990s. I was assigned a post along the parade route, and a lot of the higher executives can be very stern during these high-profile events. There was one inspector who always carried a bullhorn at these large events. He came up to me, asked me my name, and got on the bullhorn to tell the crowd who I was and that I would be protecting them today. In return, he asked them to thank me for being away from my family and protecting them.


Detective Steve Stefanakos, NYPD Emergency Service Unit

There is always a concern that something will happen at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The concerns are not only for some sort of terrorism event, but also high winds can lead to dangerous conditions for the balloons, and in the past there have been accidents. The number of people who come in the night before, when the balloons are blown up, and on Thanksgiving Day is astronomical. All in all, working the events leading up to the parade through the parade itself is an exhausting task. But the joy you see on the little kids’ faces as their favorite floats and balloons go by makes it all worth it. And after the crowds leave safely, the detail is dismissed to go home to their families.

NYPD Emergency Service personnel follow along the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route. Source: @NYPDSpecialops


Metropolitan Nashville Chief John Drake

As chief of police, I take part in our years-long partnership with the NHL’s Nashville Predators to deliver food baskets to families in need, which are selected by our officers. We will deliver baskets to 50 families on Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving.

Chief John Drake and East Precinct officers join Nashville Predators players Tanner Jeannot and Alexandre Carrier in delivering Thanksgiving turkeys and food trays to families in 2022. Source: @metronashvillepolice


Baltimore Deputy Commissioner Sheree Briscoe

When I was commander in the Western District, we would distribute turkeys, gloves, and food to the community in partnership with community stakeholders. On Thanksgiving Day, we would provide a turkey dinner, served by district commanders and the chaplain, to officers on all three shifts.

Source: @sheree_briscoe

Source: @sheree_briscoe


Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox

Thanksgiving Day has traditionally been a day of checking in with officers working in the stations that day and serving the homeless community in shelters. Leading up to Thanksgiving, we give away and deliver turkey and other pre-cooked food to the homes of extremely appreciative families in need. The families are often extremely moved by the unsolicited generosity.

When I was a deputy superintendent, I brought a turkey and other supplies to a family in a trailer park in Boston. (Before then, I didn’t even realize there was a trailer park in the city.) The mother of the family was deeply moved and blessed me and the entire department. She was proud and wouldn’t have asked for help, but she felt comfortable enough to accept it when I showed up at her door. She was grateful and I felt useful and appreciated.


Clearwater, FL Assistant City Manager Dan Slaughter (former Clearwater police chief)

The most moving moment I saw was when the spouses of officers set up a Thanksgiving buffet for on-duty officers, so they could have dinner with their families during their lunch break. This became an annual event. I loved the team-building camaraderie I saw and experienced with my co-workers on Thanksgiving.


Camden County, NJ Chief Gabe Rodriguez

What really warms my heart is a dinner held the night before Thanksgiving, when I get to share a warm meal with the homeless community. Something about eating with those who won’t have a traditional meal on Thanksgiving reminds us how fortunate we are and the importance of sharing that experience with those who may not have the means or the company to enjoy a full holiday dinner.

Chief Rodriguez with Diana Jones, who helps coordinate the pre-Thanksgiving dinners

Another tradition I’ve passed on to my officers is to distribute trays of food to families and our homeless community on Thanksgiving. Usually it’s the leftovers from our own homes or prepared dishes we’ve made for families. We don’t let anything go to waste.


Phoenix Executive Assistant Chief Sean Connolly

One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories is of a wonderful relationship with Mr. Frantz Beasley. After serving over a decade in prison, Mr. Beasley reentered society with a mission to create success for those who have been incarcerated. The Phoenix Police Department understood the value of his mission and partnered with him on many endeavors. One of these was handing out 1,000 turkeys to families in need.

Frantz asked if he could ride with me in my patrol car to deliver the turkeys, and I was honored to have him join me. As he sat in the front passenger seat with a frozen turkey, he looked over at me and said, “Well, this is new for me. I’ve always ridden in the back of these patrol cars.” We had a laugh, then he said, “Let’s go play some cops and robbers.” This showed me the power of Thanksgiving to connect two people with completely different life experiences to make a difference in their community.


University of Tennessee Police Chief Sean Patterson (former NYPD Emergency Service Unit lieutenant)

One of the greatest honors of my career in the NYPD was being assigned to be the safety officer for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was my job to coordinate the safe flight of the balloons and travel of the floats as they made their way down the parade route, and ensure Santa Claus makes his way to 34th Street. Everyone is happy and enjoying themselves, getting ready to usher in the holiday season, so it’s one of the best details to work in the NYPD.

In 2019, which was my last year working the parade, I had the honor of meeting a very special child named Quinn, who was battling cancer. Quinn is from Quincy, Massachusetts, and his mother is a Quincy police officer. The NYPD does everything they can to help visiting police officers feel welcome and navigate the Big Apple, and this was even more important with this wonderful family and amazing young man. Thanks to our excellent relationship with the parade organizers, I was able to give Quinn a behind-the-scenes tour as the balloons were inflated the day before the parade. Quinn loved it, and it really put a smile on his face.

During an event when we were hyper-focused on safety, timelines, and the big picture concerns, it was wonderful to slow down and bring joy to a child and family battling a terrible disease. Quinn showed me what is truly important in life!

Sean Patterson with Quinn and his family

Thank you to everyone who shared their memories. I love hearing stories like this, so please let me know if you have a favorite Thanksgiving story.