ALBANY, N.Y. — Roughly a dozen New York law enforcement officials, including an Oswego police officer, were recognized Wednesday for heroism by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who named a Rochester cop the Governor’s Police Officer of the Year.

Hochul on Wednesday announced a pair of police officers would be recognized for “exceptional valor and courage in the face of grave danger to themselves and residents of the communities they serve to protect.” Long delayed, the Wednesday awards were for 2019 efforts, with Rochester Police Department Officer Dennison “Denny” Wright receiving the Governor’s Police Officer of the Year Award and Suffolk County Police Officer Christopher Zonin receiving the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ Lifesaving Award.

Among more than a dozen officers around the state nominated for the 2019 Police Officer of the Year Award was Oswego Police Department (OPD) Officer Daniel Balloni, who received a certificate of exceptional valor for his efforts.

Balloni in December 2019 responded to a call about a woman screaming in the Oswego River area around 1:15 a.m. Upon arriving, Balloni and other officers found a 20-year-old woman floating in the river near West Linear Park, drifting in and out of consciousness and struggling to stay afloat. Police grabbed a lifesaving ring from the park and threw it toward the woman, but she was unable to grab it.

Despite dangerously cold temperatures, Balloni jumped into the Oswego River, grabbed the life ring, swam to the victim, pulled her head above water and kept her afloat as fellow officers pulled them both ashore. Balloni and the victim were taken to the hospital for treatment.

Balloni’s swift actions certainly saved the woman from drowning, but for him, he was just doing his duty as a police officer.

“My body was reacting to what was going on before my mind caught up and realized ‘Oh my God, I’m going into this water,’” Balloni told The Palladium-Times after the save.

It started as a routine night for Balloni on patrol when the 34 year-old heard the call for someone screaming, possibly from the east side of the river. Within minutes, the officers on the scene used their flashlights to spot the woman in the water by West Linear Park.

“There was no time to communicate with that person — ‘Hey, are you OK?” Balloni said. “I knew somebody had to go in. There was no other option.”

Balloni, who trained as a lifeguard at the age of 16 and worked as a lifeguard through college, didn’t hesitate to enter the water. Balloni battled through the bone-chilling current to get to the woman, and kept her head above the surface.

“Once they got her safe on dry land, they dragged me out as well,” Balloni said. “It’s amazing. Only being in the water for around three minutes, I had no energy left. I didn’t have energy to help myself get out of the water. They were dragging me out just as helpless as she was.”

Balloni at the time said the response to his heroic actions has been overwhelming.

“I feel like I was just out there doing my job, but everyone’s very excited about it and I appreciate a pat on the back,” Balloni said.

Hochul announced the awards on the first day of National Police Week, which will be marked in Washington D.C. this year with a series of events through Oct. 17. The state Division of Criminal Justice Services coordinates the work of the Police Officer of the Year Award Selection Committee, which also chooses the Lifesaving Award recipient.

Committee members, who include police executives, union representatives, and officials from the statewide associations that represent chiefs and sheriffs, considered nominations submitted by 11 agencies.

Nominations for the 2020 awards are being reviewed and the committee›s selections are to be announced later this year.

Wright was awarded for an October 2019 response to a family dispute that became violent.

According to the Rochester Police Department, Wright responded to a call for help with a family dispute that involved an emotionally disturbed man hiding under a bed. Upon arriving at the scene, he sought to defuse the situation. Wright talked with the man and coaxed him out of hiding, but the man became agitated and attempted to leave the home. As family members tried to stop him, he punched Officer Wright in the face and then, without warning, grabbed a 12-inch knife and repeatedly stabbed Wright in the face, head and eyes.

Wright fired his weapon once and missed the individual, who continued the attack. Despite severe injuries and impaired vision, Wright persisted and kept others around him safe. With the aid of Good Samaritans who witnessed the violent attack and rushed to his aid, Wright managed to take the suspect into custody.

The 23-year-veteran was treated for a skull and facial fractures and multiple stab wounds; he suffered permanent loss of vision in both eyes. Zonin, who is also a volunteer firefighter, braved thick smoke and heat to help several residents escape their burning residence in Centereach in December 2019. Zonin is the first Suffolk County Police Officer to receive the Lifesaving Award.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), Zonin responded to a 911 call for a roommate dispute in Centereach. The caller met Zonin at a nearby 7-11 convenience store to discuss the situation. Zonin then went to the residence and saw thick smoke coming from the rear of the building. He crawled through one apartment, braving smoke, heat and fire, to alert three residents, who were able to escape on their own.

Zonin then entered the front apartment, according to SCPD, where he found one man, who was able to flee the fire without assistance. Zonin then dragged an unconscious man to safety through a kitchen that was nearly engulfed in fire.

The Police Officer of the Year Award recognizes an officer or team of officers for an exceptional act of valor symbolizing the service of police in New York. Established in 1984, the award has been presented to 121 officers from 20 different agencies. The Selection Committee established the Lifesaving Award in 2016 and since then, 13 officers from four agencies have received the honor. 

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