Straight Forward

My Message For Officers Facing Challenging Times
By Paul O’Connor

If you’re facing a difficult time, I want you to take a moment to hear my story.

I was involved in a shooting in which I was shot and beaten by a fugitive from justice. It was four days before Christmas. The fugitive was wanted in a double shooting in Boston on that past Thanksgiving.

After being shot and beaten, it took approximately five months to physically recover. I returned for another three months in a light duty position before returning to patrol.

The shooting not only affected me, but it also affected my wife and my two daughters who were 8 and 6 when the shooting occurred. I was affected by the physical effects of a shattered arm, beaten head and face, a metal rod in my forearm and the nightmares, anxiety attacks and emotional outbursts that were not appropriate for the situations presented at the time. Having read about post-traumatic stress, I was aware of the symptoms and I dealt with them as necessary. The only professional assessment I received was a short interview with a psychiatrist before returning to full duty in the patrol division.

My wife suffered for a year with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress of having her husband shot and almost killed a few days before Christmas. My two girls were also affected by the shooting, especially my youngest. She was severely impacted by seeing her father, who was a big, strong police officer (in her 6-year-old mind) beaten, injured and looking helpless. She lost confidence and it affected her emotional development for many years. We sought help and brought both our girls to a therapist until we felt they were able to handle the effects of the shooting.

I returned to work with some trepidation about returning to the mouth of the beast, and it took some time to become comfortable again in the day-to-day job of policing. I returned to patrol because it was the only option. I believe the attitude was to get back on the horse as soon as possible. That was my job and I went back to it.

For those officers recovering both physically and psychologically from a traumatic incident, there is help. I found that time, family and friends were very important parts of the healing process. It is extremely important that the family of the injured officer also be considered because they, too, suffer from the negative and sometimes devastating effects of the trauma involving their loved ones. It is my hope that leaders in the respective agencies see the injured police officer and his or her family as a unit, and offer every possible assistance–even if the officer or family don’t request the help because at the time they may not realize they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

I am hopeful that if you are going through a difficult time, you see that, like me, making it through is possible. There is always life ahead. You must stick it out and seek help. Do whatever it takes to overcome, even when it seems the odds are stacked against you. You will get through even your darkest of times.

As I sit here writing this message to you, and recalling that day on December 20, 2001 when I almost lost my life, I am reminded that time does heal, and with the passing of years the bad memories become just that, bad memories.

Det. Paul O’Connor is an officer with New Britain (Connecticut) Police Department. He has served for over 24 years. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family. He is hopeful that by sharing his story, an officer out there will realize there is hope.