Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cops: Sgt. Kevin O'Rourke, R.I.P.

Text and photos by George Molé

Kevin O'Rourke, a retired NYPD sergeant working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan, was killed in a firefight on Saturday, September 29.

I learned of his death on the following day, on the homeward leg of a bus trip to a football game.  I checked my Facebook page on my phone, only to see a posting about the "green on blue" incident--an attack from ostensibly friendly forces--that took him.  And I was awash in sadness.

Kevin was a former coworker of mine, and one of my favorites.  I can't pretend to a close friendship with him, but I liked him a lot.  I had the good fortune of working with him in the 23rd Precinct in East Harlem for about two years, more than a decade-and-a-half ago.  He was there when I arrived as a newly-promoted sergeant in late 1995, and was still assigned there when I transferred out in mid-1997.

As a brand-new supervisor, I depended on the advice and guidance of those who had more time in that position.  Being a boss in the NYPD is more an art than a science, I discovered, and quite a challenging art if one cares about doing it well.  There are some who attain pretty high rank without ever really getting the hang of it.  Many people were helpful to me as I worked to learn what I had to know, but I soon found that Kevin's feedback was always particularly incisive, thoughtful and sincere, and given without a trace of judgmentalism--even if now and again, or more than that, I wasn't quite clear on the best way to handle some fresh bit of craziness.

Many others received the benefit of Kevin's knowledge and experience as well.
 

One day, a story goes, a young female officer, trying to subdue a rowdy prisoner in the holding cell, discharged a blast of pepper spray.  Any cop can tell you how that worked out; the spray covered the officer herself, the other cops who were trying to assist her, the other prisoners--everyone but the intended target.

After the original problem had been placed under control and instructed in the error of his ways, after all the crying and blinded cops and perps had been cleaned off as well as possible, Kevin considered the situation.

"Do you think we have to do a big report?" another sergeant asked him.  He thought about it.  "No, just another day in the office," he said in his low-key manner.  "But it's really not a good idea to use pepper spray in the cell.  There are better ways.  I'll talk to her about it."

But before he could have that conversation with the cop who sprayed the spray, she took the other sergeant aside.  "Is Sgt. O'Rourke mad at me?" she asked nervously.  But Sgt. O'Rourke wasn't mad at her.  How could he ever be mad at fellow cops trying their best to do the job, but making the occasional mistake?

Help them?  Yes.  Teach them?  Absolutely.  Care about them?  Always.  But be angry at them?  In Kevin's world, unthinkable.  "Did Sgt. O'Rourke ever talk to you?" she was asked later.  She smiled.  "Yes, he explained what I should do when something like that happens."


I'm still in the NYPD, a captain now, and Kevin continues to be one of my role models as a police supervisor.

In a way, I knew Kevin before I met him.  I had worked with, and liked, similar people in both the New York City Emergency Medical Service and in the NYPD.  Indeed, I was one of them, and still am on most days.


Kevin was a buff.

A buff, as I use the word, is someone who still thinks the job of helping people is fun and exciting--someone for whom cynicism hasn't replaced idealism.  A buff hears the radio dispatcher announce that some big, crazy, dangerous incident is taking place at this very moment out in the untamed streets, perks up like a hunting dog, looks at his or her partner...and goes.  Maybe smiling a little bit--because here is an opportunity to apply years of training and experience, and a whole lot of passion, to solve a problem, to get someone out of trouble, to protect someone.  This was Kevin when I knew him.  And, from what I've read about the way he spent the remainder of his life, it continued to be him.

I recall Kevin telling me that he had been in the Emergency Service Unit at the police officer rank, and hoped to get assigned there again as a sergeant.  ESU is a combination SWAT team, rescue squad, hazmat unit and all-purpose bunch of problem-solvers--they're the ones we cops call when things really get ugly.  "It's hard to get back there as a boss," he said, because there were so few openings, but he planned to keep trying.  And, if he made it, not to take any more promotional exams, because another promotion would mean having to leave again.  "I'll retire with an 'E' patch on my arm," he said.  And he did.

After I left the 2-3, I saw Kevin only once more, running into him when I was out at Emergency Service headquarters at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn for some training.  He had finally made his way back to Emergency, and seemed to be having a fine time.  We chatted a bit, and he paid me a compliment that meant a lot to me then, and means more now.  Since I had seen him last, I had written an article called "Why I'm Still Proud to be a Cop," which had appeared in the New York Daily News.  "I saw your article," Kevin told me.  "It was great.  I hung it up in my locker."

I'm moved today to know that Kevin read that piece and liked it.  Because, in a way, though I didn't realize it at the time, it was about him.  The values I was trying to describe--the beauty and meaning of our profession--are the values he lived.  And the big reason I was, and am, proud to be a cop is that I've gotten to work with people like Kevin O'Rourke.


Rest in peace, brother.  And thanks for everything.



In Kevin's memory, reproduced below is the article that he told me he liked the last time I saw him.  Those who knew him will recognize instantly that every word describes the way he worked as a cop, and the way he continued to live his life after his retirement from the NYPD.  This piece originally appeared in the New York Daily News on Thursday, August 28, 1997.  (The reference to "the accused Brooklyn officers" concerned the Louima incident, which was in the news at that time.)

Why I'm Still Proud to Be a Cop

by George Molé

New York Daily News
Thursday, August 28, 1997 

I still remember why I became a cop:  I wanted to walk down a dark street and make everyone feel safe.  I wanted to see the kids crowd around, and the girls smile, and the hoodlums slink off the corners, and the old people unlock their doors and come outside on a summer night.  All because I was there.


Every good cop starts with that enthusiasm, that heroic vision of police work--but it's not always easy to hold on to.  The maddening bureaucracy of the job, the lack of support from the public and courts and politicians, and the distorted view of the police often presented by the media can disillusion the most idealistic cop.

And the great, tragic scandals that at long intervals roil the department--like the ongoing horror at Brooklyn's 70th Precinct--can shake a cop's sense of pride, the confidence of being respected by law-abiding people.

But I have worn an NYPD shield for seven years, and every day makes me more, not less, proud to be a New York City police officer.  Because every day I see my co-workers doing the world's hardest job with skill and humor and extraordinary grace.


Although I don't speak for anyone but myself, I believe that most cops are, like me, attempting to keep an open mind about the innocence or guilt of the accused Brooklyn officers.  But the horrible allegations against them--false or true--are so far outside anything I've seen in my career as to seem the stuff of fiction.

Here's what I have seen:

Cops of all races and both sexes work together with a mutual respect and affection that should be an example for the rest of society.  Cops know that the ethnicity of the person who's watching your back in a dark alleyway or on some desolate rooftop is quite unimportant.

Cops will go out of their way to talk to or play with or comfort a child.  Perhaps thinking of their own children, they try constantly to counter the negative influences, the lack of love and guidance, that many of our city's kids experience.

Cops will almost always, even at the risk of their own safety, try to resolve a situation with words instead of force.  "Let's talk about it..." or "Try to calm down, pal..." are always preferred to a stick or a gun.

And sometimes, while they're doing their jobs, they die.  Unexpectedly, violently, painfully.

If cops ask for respect, or the benefit of the doubt when they take action, that request has been paid for, many times over, in blood.

I think of Police Officer Vincent Guidice, killed last year with shards of broken glass while trying to protect a battered woman.  Don't bet the rent money that Al Sharpton will organize a march to protest his death.

Guess what:  Cops are people.  They're subject to the same weaknesses, temptations and dark impulses as anyone else.  But what's remarkable is not that, on rare occasions, they succumb to them--but how rare those occasions are.

So let's condemn the very few corrupt or brutal cops.  I do.  But then let's salute the rest of my 37,000 brothers and sisters in blue, who humble me with their patience and bravery, their incredible decency.

Because right now, somewhere in the city--maybe even in the 7-0--a cop is handling some tense, potentially violent situation, keeping everything cool with cynical wisdom and a sense of humor, common sense and the right words.

He or she wears the NYPD uniform, and so do I.  Nothing could make me prouder.

Molé is an NYPD sergeant and freelance writer.

In memory of Sgt. Kevin O'Rourke, New York City Police Department (retired).
1959-2012.  Rest in peace.

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4 Comments:

At November 11, 2012 at 7:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely written ~ sounds like a good guy. Thanks for sharing.

 
At November 12, 2012 at 9:52 PM , Anonymous Barbara Lee said...

George, I loved your story about Sgt. Kevin O'Rourke. I can tell from your writing it would have been an honor to know him. Very rare to find someone that can lead people in the right direction. Especially without a hint of impatience or derisiveness and to have your back as well. That's truly amazing. It's great that you're carrying on in his footsteps.
This really is your best piece. So much emotion, so heartfelt, very raw. It just cuts through you. Loved it. Thank you. Keep up the fight.

 
At December 1, 2012 at 4:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh George, you truly have captured what it was to have had the pleasure to have known Sgt. O'Rourke, no matter how short that aquaintance may have been. He embodied that thing, that almost indescribable thing, that makes you never forget him. He was strong, brave and confident. When things went bad you just needed to look over at him and know that it would all be all right. Throughout my career I have attempted to be that kind of boss. The boss you want on the scene. The boss that you can rely on. The boss whose presence can immediately set you at ease. He had an "I got this" confidence. I wish more cops had the honor to work with him. Even for a single job. They would not forget him. They couldn't. Thank you so much for writing this great piece. You too are someone I can rely on to make all seem okay. Your writing is a gift. Don't ever stop.

 
At July 15, 2014 at 3:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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