Detective Steven McDonald, paralyzed from the neck down since 1986 when he was shot in the head by a teenager in Central Park, regularly visits precincts around the city to remind officers to be careful in the line of duty.
"I thought it was important that my friends see what I looked like," McDonald told the group of about 30 police officers waiting to start the afternoon shift. "It's very easy to forget those who are injured."
McDonald spoke haltingly, pausing between phrases to gather his breath. Slowly positioning himself in front of the officers in a motorized wheelchair, McDonald emphasized that the officers should remember how much they are respected by the public.
"Everybody's important," he said. "I spend my time speaking to the kids and adults who fill up our community and they all love us for what we do."
The 111th Police Precinct covers the communities of Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens, and parts of Flushing and Auburndale. The precinct has had little violent crime in the past several years.
Capt. Kevin Fitzgerald reminded the officers that despite the precinct's relative lack of cre, it was essential to remember safety tactics.
"It's a dangerous job," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be on your guard at all times."
McDonald was a rookie cop in July 1986 when he approached three teens in Central Park to question them about a stolen bicycle.
"What began as a very innocent situation turned ugly very quickly," McDonald said.
During the incident, one of the teens shot McDonald, nearly killing him. Since the shooting, McDonald has used his injuries to remind his fellow officers to be careful.
"It could happen to any one of us," he said. "It's important to make it home in one piece."
McDonald has used his position as an unofficial NYPD spokesman to comment on larger issues as well. During the Amadou Diallo controversy, when four city officers mistakenly shot an African immigrant 41 times in what they said was a case of mistaken identity, McDonald described the incident as a tragedy, not a crime.
In June, McDonald traveled to Ireland to help promote peace in that war-torn corner of the world.
In Bayside last Thursday, McDonald read letters from schoolchildren appreciative of police officers and read a poem which told the officers to "remember you're special."
Lt. Tom Brennan, a member of the 111th Police Precinct, worked with McDonald in the late 1980s when the pair were rookie cops.
When asked what it was like to see McDonald giving one of his motivational speeches today, Brennan said "it's heart wrenching."
©2001 Community News Group
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