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After nearly 35 years on the job, Riverhead officer Dennis Cavanagh retires

When a Riverhead police officer retires, it’s typically longtime officer Dennis Cavanagh giving the speech (and telling the jokes) at the “walk-out” ceremony.

But this week, Mr. Cavanagh will be the one on the receiving end of a speech. 

Mr. Cavanagh, who joined the department in May 1986, has been on highway patrol since 2003. He’s officially retiring Friday. 

Originally from Lindenhurst, Mr. Cavanagh said he was surprised at first at some of the incidents that have taken place in Riverhead. 

“I can’t say I’ve seen it all but I’ve seen quite a bit for a little small town on the East End of Long Island,” he said.  

“I’m not really surprised at some of the things I’ve seen, but there’s been a couple of things that shocked me.”

He recalled the sniper who terrorized the Riverhead and Riverside areas in 1988, killing one person and injuring three others.

Mr. Cavanagh frequently helped lead the annual Riverhead CAP “Say No to Drugs” march. (Credit: Tom Schlichter/Riverhead CAP photo)

“That was a shock to me because, who would think that this guy would ever come this way. He was a real deal. That was a shocker.”

Mr. Cavanagh has also made some arrests involving armed robberies and violent incidents. 

One in particular occurred in February 2013 and involved Mr. Cavanagh and Officer Michael Lombardo. In that case, Mr. Cavanagh had responded to a call on Second Street in which a woman was experiencing chest pain. After the ambulances left, Mr. Cavanagh heard gunshots coming from a home on Third Street. 

The two officers tracked down four suspects who allegedly fired seven shots through a Third Street home in a drive-by shooting. 

That case earned Mr. Cavanagh a News-Review Public Servant of the Year Award and earned both officers their department’s officer of the year award.

“We will all miss him,” said Felicia Scocozza, the executive director of Riverhead Community Awareness Program, which teaches kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Mr. Cavanagh leads CAP’s annual “Say No to Drugs” parade on his police motorcycle and even delivered the keynote speech at the event in 2014, telling students, “If you stay away from drugs and alcohol, you can do anything you please.”

Mr. Cavanagh also served as sergeant-at-arms for the Riverhead Police Benevolent Association, as president of the Suffolk County Police Conference and served as training officer since 1987, teaching officers defensive tactics, CPR and other skills. 

While he was often seen running a police motorcycle since 2003, Mr. Cavanagh said he did not know how to ride a motorcycle when he first took the highway patrol job.

“He really deserves recognition because he devoted more than 30 years to the job,” said former town councilman Jim Wooten, who was appointed to the town police department the same time as Mr. Cavanagh. 

Dixon Palmer, a retired town detective who joined the force a year before Mr. Cavanagh, said “he knew right away how to be a good cop and how to treat people.” 

“Am I going to miss it? Yeah, I’ll miss it,” Mr. Cavanagh said. “You come here every day for almost 35 years. And now it just ends. I’ll miss it for a little while. What I’m gonna do next? To be continued. But I’m sure I’ll adapt. I’m not worried about that.”