I received very sad news today that my friend, retired NYPD Detective First Grade, Mordecai Dzikansky has died suddenly of a heart attack. Morty was my friend, my colleague, my hero and a damn good cop.
Morty served in the NYPD for twenty-five years and he was a Hero, an NYPD Detective First Grade, a Husband, a Father, an Author, a Teacher, a Cop’s cop and my Friend.
He is survived by his wife Meryl and their three children Zachary, Jake, Talia
We were supposed to be teaching together at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference this week but other priorities had pulled both of us apart and in different directions, so that neither of us were able to attend the conference.
He was together with his family celebrating the sacred Jewish holiday of Purim when he died.
He was the author of two books: The well known… Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists, 2010 and his textbook on terrorism investigations Terrorist Suicide Bombings: Attack Interdiction, Mitigation, and Response by Mordecai Dzikansky, Gil Kleiman, et al. 2011
He worked with us at The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and was very active in trying to help other law enforcement professionals avoid, or mitigate, the traumas and hidden dangers of our profession. He suffered from many of these himself.
As a NYPD Manhattan South Homicide Detective on September 11, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City, Morty’s team of detectives were immediately dispatched to what would eventually be called Ground Zero to begin investigations.
Also at the time his wife, Meryl, worked in the 3 World Financial Center connected to the North Tower (the second to be hit by a plane) of the World Trade Center. She was just able to escape before the North Tower fell.
“Plunging Into My Own Hell”
I will never forget Morty’s words from the Foreword of his book Terrorist Cop “I had accomplished so much. Everyone said so. It was an easy leap me to read the newspaper articles about my exploits and then to imagine who would be playing me in the film. And yet, the warning signs that I was plunging into my own hell were all too apparent. There was a doctor whom I visited, who suggested in all seriousness that if I did not quit my assignment, I would soon be dead.”
Later in the Foreword, he writes: “I suppose I was burned out from the job. But, in fact, I was obsessed with my work, so obsessed that as my workload diminished, I grew even more obsessed and I entered my own isolated world; My relationships with my wife and children suffered; with time on my hands for the first time in years. I poured all my anxiety into eating and put on far too many pounds”. I was not suffering the kind of mental collapse that carried a stigma. My ailment was post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Somehow, the emotions that I was experiencing were easier to absorb now that I knew my situation had a rational explanation. It was all so ironic. My job was to be the voice of authority; my tasks were to make sure that the awful scenes that I witnessed would never happen again. I suffered pain from our up-close encounters with the victims. And yet here I was, a victim too”.
So, how did he get there?
Mordecai Dzikansky entered the NYPD Police Academy in January of 1983 and graduated in June of that year. Coming from a family of Orthodox Jews, Morty normally wore a yarmulke but didn’t want to stand out during his time in the Academy. Once he received his first assignment he started to wear it and became one of only three Orthodox Jews in the 40,000 person New York Police Department.
He started his police career in Brooklyn as part the Neighborhood Stabilization Unit 12 (NSU12) in Crown Heights. From the beginning he was destined to be in the limelight. A photo of him wrestling with the suspect of his very first arrest made the front page of the New York Daily News. They also misspelled his name.
Soon, he received his first permanent assignment in the 79th Precinct in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district. During the 1980’s had a high rate of daily shootings and murders. In March 1986 he was transferred to the Narcotics Division and stopped wearing his yarmulke while he was undercover. In 1988 he was transferred to midtown Manhattan to become the first NYPD Orthodox Jewish detective, and in October of 1988 he was transferred from Bedford-Stuyvesant to the Detective Squad in the Midtown North precinct as a robbery detective. In April of 1989 he was promoted to Detective Third Grade and stayed in Midtown North for the next ten years.
NYPD’s Jewish Detective
Morty knew he stood out. Many of the NYPD brass referred to him as their “Jewish Detective”, not only because he wore a yarmulke but also because in the 1980’s he became the Hebrew-Language translator for the NYPD. The moniker didn’t bother Morty because he know that he wanted to move up within the NYPD and suspected that standing out in that way could help him. He was right, because in November 1990, as a junior robbery detective, he became involved in the high-profile homicide investigation into the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane a very controversial Jewish figure in New York at that time. After arriving at the crime scene Morty told his superiors that he believed the murder had all the earmarks of an Islamic hit. As Morty had suspected the investigation later revealed that the murder of Rabbi Kahane proved to be an assassination having to do with his extremist anti-Arab views and the Egyptian militant charged with Kahane’s murder had ties to a world-wide terrorist network. The case was marred by many, many problems that eventually revealed that the NYPD needed to improve its ability to understand and respond to international terrorism. This would change in 2002 with Ray Kelly taking charge as NYPD Police Commissioner.
Morty had a strong affection for the State of Israel. He had visited there many times and wanted to retire there. Global forces were also at play in Morty’s life, and on January 17, 1991 as the First Gulf War broke out, Iraq fired missiles into Israel. In February 1991 Morty, took a month-long vacation and joined the Israeli Defence Forces Sar-El program as an international volunteer helping at an Army base near Beersheba Israel.
Back in New York, in May of 1991, Morty met his future bride Meryl Markowitz at a Jewish event and the were married in September of 1992.
Over the years Morty’s exploits had continued to find their way into the newspapers and he was developing a reputation. Then in the fall of 1992, he was thrust into the spotlight again when he became the lead investigator in a very high-profile task-force investigation into a series of fifteen thefts of sacred Jewish Torahs from Jewish synagogues around the city. The Torah, the holiest object in Judaism, is regarded as reveling the word of God; it contains the five Books of Moses, and the thefts created a massive stir within the Jewish community. NYPD once again turned to its “Jewish detective” for help. The Torah is sacred. A Torah, if too old or torn, receives a proper burial with accompanying prayers. It is the only religious object in Judaism that requires that the congregation stand when its ark is opened, or it is held.
The case proved to be particularly difficult to solve. One of the fifteen stolen Torah’s was recovered in 1993, and two young men were arrested in Brooklyn, but it was not until a break came in 1996 when Morty and his team were able to make two arrests of the person who had stolen the other fourteen Torahs and his fence trying to sell them.
Morty was involved in many other high-profile and important cases but his life would change forever after September 11, 2001. Between January and June of 2002 40 suicide bombings had occurred in Israel. In June of 2002 Morty was selected into the NYPD’s newly revamped Intelligence Bureau. The police department was establishing overseas postings for NYPD officers in order to provide on-the-spot intelligence of foreign terror attacks, and to learn as much about the methods of radical Islamic terrorists.
From January of 2003 until September of 2007, Morty was in Israel as the first NYPD Intelligence Division Overseas Liaison to the Israel National Police. His intelligence gathering and immediate relay of key information back to NYC enhanced the Department’s ability to recognize, react to, and prevent or recover from terrorist acts. During that time he responded in person to and analyzed 21 bombing scenes in Israel and several attacks globally, including events in Turkey, Russia, Spain and Egypt. He worked with senior members of the Israeli intelligence community on joint investigations which connected New York City and the State of Israel.
Despite all of the excitement and many accolades of his long career, eventually the toll of the trauma and cost of seeing so much tragedy began to take effect on Morty. He became obese growing from 250 pounds in January of 2003 to over 300 pounds four years later. His blood pressure was sky high and he began drinking much more than he should have, and he began drinking alone to try to cope with the demons of the job. He knew that he was suffering the effects of PTSD from all that he had seen throughout his career, but he felt he could fix it himself. “We’ve all seen shit” he said, knowing that all cops have witnessed more horrors than the average citizen can imagine, but like all cops, he felt he could handle it.
In January of 2008, after 25 years with the NYPD, Morty turned down Commissioner Kellys offer to stay on in another foreign assignment, decided to retire to take care of his health and spend more time with his wife and kids.
Following his retirement he published two books: Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists in 2010 and his textbook on terrorism investigations Terrorist Suicide Bombings: Attack Interdiction, Mitigation, and Response by Mordecai Dzikansky, Gil Kleiman, et al. in 2011.
He worked the lecture circuit and consulted with law enforcement and academics on global security and policing topics using his expertise to provide first-hand analysis of current terror trends, lessons learned, and worldwide application to prevent and respond to terrorism.
He spent time working on his health and fitness and I convinced him to talk to other cops about working through the hidden dangers and physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual impacts that a career in police work can layer upon your life. As I said, we were both going to be speaking this week to an international audience of law enforcement leaders and trainers. We didn’t make it. Each of our lives pulled us in other directions and both of us had to cancel for different reasons.
Now I will never see my friend again. At sixty he was too young to die! All the law enforcement research I read tells us that our career has risks far different from, and sometimes far above, most other careers.
AND YET WE STILL DON’T LISTEN!
Cardiologist Jonathan Sheinberg, MD, FACC who is also a Police Lieutenant does research on early cardiac death of law enforcement officers and he reports “We’ve collected data on over 2,000 police officers and what we found is 2,000 officers have an increased risk of heart disease compared to the civilian population,” Sheinberg said. “Now, we’ve known for years that officers die at an earlier age. The average life expectancy of a police officer is 22 years less than the general population.” and “He says police officers are 25 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from the action of a suspect 1.”
Dr. Sheinberg is a founder, President and CEO, of the Public Safety Cardiac Foundation. Besides medicine, Dr. Sheinberg’s passion is Law Enforcement. He is a licensed Peace Officer for the State of Texas, a Lieutenant on the Cedar Park Police Department, and a Special Deputy United States Marshal. He is the Assistant Medical Director of Williamson County EMS over tactical medicine and oversees the tactical medical support for the Central Texas Regional SWAT Team, Williamson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team and the Round Rock Police Department SWAT Team.
Visit http://www.publicsafetyheart.org to learn more about Dr. Sheinberg and his research. Visit: http://www.publicsafetyheart.org/IACP_2016_The_Cedar_Park_Model.pdf to learn about his recommendations about his beliefs on the need for LEO Specific Wellness and how to implement it within your organization.
These are challenging times for police in the United States and through-out the world. The men and women who work in this profession are not only challenged by social activism, divisive politics, and a pandemic but also on a psychological and physical personal level. We all are aware of the danger of being a police officer, but beneath that lies a hidden danger: mental distress. A successful police career therefore involves not only surviving the danger but also psychological survival.
In his new book: Occupation Under Siege: Resolving Mental Health Crosses in Police Work, researcher and former New York State Trooper John Violanti, Ph.D. writes: “Post-traumatic Stress (PTSD) and depression appear to be prevalent in police. Police officers are repeatedly exposed to traumatic situations including motor vehicle accidents, armed conflicts, and witnessing violent death across their working lives. An estimated 7% – 19% of police officers qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD, and approximately 34% experience a number of PTSD symptoms. Depression and PTSD are often found together in officers. Several studies on police have found the prevalence of depression to be approximately 12% which is nearly twice as high as the general population. Both depression and PTSD promote poor health through a complex interaction between biological and psychological mechanisms. Police officers with PTSD or depression are at an increased risk for negative health issues such as cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders, comorbid psychological conditions as well as suicide. Officers with severe PTSD symptoms are approximately three times more likely to have the metabolic syndrome — a collection of components which increase the risk for heart disease.”
As you read this I implore you to use Morty’s life as a model for your career but MORE IMPORTANTLY to use Morty’s death as a giant RED FLAG warning you and your peers about the need to stay healthy, build resilience and spread the word about the hidden dangers facing all of us in law enforcement.
To my Friend Morty Dzikansky, I say: Rest in Peace Brother!
To all my friends in law enforcement – Stay safe and build resilience – YOUR LIFE and the QUALITY OF YOUR LIFE depend on it.
Here is a link to an article written by Morty’s sister, about him: https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/324241
*Much of the information within this post is taken directly for Morty’s book: Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists, 2010.
1 https://www.kxan.com/news/local/austin/cardiologist-police-lieutenant-works-to-keep-officers-heart-healthy/ Web accessed 3-18-22
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I was in Jerusalem with Morty when he was 17 at Yeshiva, we played basketball together a couple of hours a day. He was a sweet, goofy kid. I saw him 5 years later in synagogue and he told me he had become a cop. Haven’t seen him since, but I read his book and was very proud.
My deepest condolences to his family, friends and co-workers.
Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and sharing your memories of Morty. He spoke of his volunteer work at Leket often, and he was very proud of being able to make a difference. He will be missed by so many people!
We knew Morty from volunteering at Leket – sorting donated vegetables and fruit to provide for those who could not afford these essentials. Whilst we volunteered every few weeks, Morty came several times a week – what a special man – full of humour and modest despite his fame. We were due to hear him speak at HOB but he passed away so suddenly – Rest in Peace Morty – you will be missed.
This is Adina Kutnicki, Morty’s sister. Losing Morty is a devastating loss for our family.
A counterterrorism contact of mine came across your article and passed it on. It is a beautiful testimony to a wonderful man; a gentle giant. Thanks for taking the time to honor him.
I wrote the following, in his memory and honor – https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/324241
He will never be forgotten, and will be missed forever.
Thank you for reaching out and sharing your memories of Morty.
We were classmates in High School. What a wonderful guy, a gentle giant. Thank you for posting
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories about working with Morty.
Be well and stay safe!
Thank you for reaching out and sharing your memories of Morty.
I will find what information I can and email you directly.
I was honoured to meet and work with Morty when I commanded the bomb disposal unit in the south Tel Aviv district. The years 2002-2005 were full of terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv. Morty has always been there, on every incident. Impressed closely, examines the scene, learns the T.A. police readiness and writes operational lessons. A very professional person who was loved by all Israel police commander’s. The importance he saw in spreading operational lessons to the United States law enforcement was always before his eyes. We lost a dear friend and a first-rate professional officer.R.I.P
I grew up with Morty before he became a cop and we shared the same bar mitzvah weekend. He played basketball in my backyard whenever he could. I am devastated by the news and would appreciate if you can get me info on reaching out to his family. Thank you for the wonderful article.
Thank you Dan! If you have a good story about Morty, please share it here or send me an email. Take good care and stay safe! John
Thank you Jed! Please take care of your SELF and your loved ones! John
Thank you for writing about this amazing person, and my condolences on the untimely death of your friend.
I had the pleasure of being friends with Morty. He was truly an amazing person. Great sense of humor and a wonderful detective. May he Rest In Peace.