By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff
To those outside his Port Authority Police command at the George Washington Bridge, he is Officer Juan Guzman. To fellow officers who helped him patrol the world’s busiest bridge, he’s “Father” Guzman, with a unique ability to comfort the distressed souls he too frequently encountered during his tours.
Guzman and his colleagues at the GWB saved 70 lives in 2016 and reduced the number of people who jumped from the span from 18 in 2015 to 12 last year. Guzman, a married father of four assigned to the GWB command the past nine years, personally is credited with saving more than two dozen lives.
“Life is precious. I try to establish a connection with them whether it’s about God, family or love,” said Guzman, who once saved a man’s life by kneeling down in prayer with him on the bridge while traffic roared past.
The veteran officer has earned numerous awards for his heroism, including the Port Authority Police Department’s (PAPD) Officer of the Year Award in 2015 and Officer of the Year in 2016 by the New Jersey Center of Excellence Crisis Intervention Team
PAPD Police Inspector Geraldo Silva, who was Guzman’s supervisor at the GWB, describes him as among the most “exceptional police officers” he’s ever known. “He works hard, he’s ethical, he’s reliable and he’s a go-to officer for both his supervisors and his peers,” said Silva.
Guzman once even thwarted a possible terrorist attack. In 2015, he spotted a suspicious loiterer on two separate occasions on the bridge. The FBI discovered the individual was an aeronautical student who Googled information about electronic circuitry, the construction of pressure cookers and the terrorist group ISIS, and later pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Promoted recently to detective, the officer began his law enforcement career with the New York Police Department, where he worked four years before joining the PAPD in 2002, just months after the 9/11 tragedy. He transferred to the GWB command in 2008, not far from the Washington Heights neighborhood where he grew up.
In 2010, Guzman was put to the test for the first time. While on patrol, he spotted a young woman who had already climbed over the railing and was staring down into the Hudson River. With adrenaline pumping and heart pounding, Guzman’s first reaction was to cuff her to the railing. Instead, he rushed over, and with help from other officers, hauled her back over.
“My actions that day prevented a family from mourning the death of a child,” said Guzman. “This was a very rewarding feeling for me.” Since then, he repeatedly demonstrated a calm and compassionate demeanor crucial to helping save lives.
Last fall, Guzman was faced with two potential suicides within a 24-hour period. On September 23, Guzman and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Michael Hennessy, were responding to a report of a man threatening to jump. When they arrived, the man was already hanging over the railing. It took 16 minutes, but Guzman and Hennessy managed to persuade him to climb back.
The next day, Guzman was patrolling with his partner, Officer Lavern Watson, when they encountered a man who told them, ‘I came to jump.’ But instead of cuffing him, Guzman convinced the man to seek medical attention voluntarily.
“I try to give them back their dignity. I remind people in pain of the things in life that are the most precious to us all,” he said.