Behind the Badge: NYPD Officer Michael Balioni ’11, ’23 on Destigmatizing Addiction and Mental Illness

Behind the Badge: NYPD Officer Michael Balioni ’11, ’23 on Destigmatizing Addiction and Mental Illness

Behind the Badge: NYPD Officer Michael Balioni ’11, ’23 on Destigmatizing Addiction and Mental Illness

Since its inception, John Jay College has been an institution proud to educate public safety leaders in law enforcement, fire suppression, and emergency medical services. Every day, these brave members of our community work hard to keep us safe. We’re continually grateful for their service, and in recognition of their considerable contributions to our safety, we’re dedicating our “Behind the Badge” series to them. In these articles we get to see the man or woman “behind the badge.” We get to know what inspires them, understand what challenges them, and most importantly learn about their jobs through their own thoughts and experiences.

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer Michael Balioni ’11, ’23, a student in the NYPD Leadership Program, understands the plight of New Yorkers dealing with addictions and mental illness. After a devastating motorcycle accident, his wife became addicted to prescription opioids. “Witnessing her struggle and then her recovery, taught me a lot about empathy, healing, and showing up for others in their time of need,” says Balioni. “I want to change how we treat people living with these illnesses and the words we use to describe them.”

Balioni’s passion for helping others has been clear throughout his 15-year career with the NYPD. In 2012, he joined the Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA) program, a volunteer support group that works with police officers and retirees who need support. In 2019, hoping to raise opioid addiction awareness and support those in recovery, Balioni organized a Walk for Hope in both Brooklyn and Staten Island. His work with the community is driven by empathy and kindness. “I try to engage with the communities I work with and let them know there are resources available to them,” says Balioni. “I want them to know that they are not alone in their struggles and that there is hope for the future.”

“I try to engage with the communities I work with and let them know there are resources available to them. I want them to know that they are not alone.” —Michael Balioni

What inspired you to embark on a career in law enforcement?
Before I joined the NYPD, I worked for years in the customer service industry—as a cashier, deli worker, bagger, and a waiter. I really enjoyed working with customers and I thought that transitioning to work in the public sector would be a perfect fit for me. I’ve been at the NYPD for the last 15 years and looking back its clear to see being a police officer is my calling.

Can you describe your best day on the job? What happened that day to make you proud, happy, or encouraged?
I always feel the proudest when I can help a person who is struggling. When someone is brought into the precinct and is distressed, I step in and calm that person down, helping to de-escalate the situation. My goal is to treat each person with dignity and respect. I approach them with the understanding that they’re currently going through one of the toughest moments of their lives. I show them I can relate to them in some way; that I get it.

Tell us about POPPA. Why is being a volunteer in the program so important to you?
POPPA is profound and on the cutting edge of the services they offer, including a 24/7 meeting and referral-based service, suicide awareness SAFER, trauma response team, and resilience programs. It was this very organization that I reached out to while dealing with the problems that arose from the addiction stigma. Being in POPPA is very rewarding for me. It allows me to help and be there for other officers, and that means a lot to me.

You’re part of the NYPD Leadership Program at John Jay. What was it about the program that drew you to it?
I was able to join the leadership program recently for my master’s degree and I’m so happy I did. Being in the NYPD Leadership Program nourishes my mind. I love being part of the program because I get to learn from leadership and talk to other law enforcement officers about what’s going on in the world, what their experiences are, and I gain insight from their experiences.

“Show the community that you’re also a human behind that uniform. When you let that come through, you’ll find that the public responds well, the community embraces you, and change, even if it is just a tiny bit, can happen.” —Michael Balioni

What advice do you have for John Jay students hoping to pursue a career in law enforcement?
Being in the NYPD is the best job in the world. If you’re looking to work in law enforcement, do it because it’s truly a calling and you’re passionate about it. Connect with people and show the community that you’re also a human behind that uniform. When you let that come through, you’ll find that the public responds well, the community embraces you, and change, even if it is just a tiny bit, can happen.