“Is everybody ready?” It was a question former firearms instructor Sergeant Frank O’Doherty had asked hundreds of times as Service members lined up for their annual use of force qualification exercise.
“Yes, we are,” was the prompt response from the 18 uniformed members.
“When the target turns, we are going to fire,” bellowed O’Doherty.
Expecting everybody to obey the command, O’Doherty was stunned when an officer on the firing line started to cry and refused to remove his gun from his holster.
“I asked him what was happening and he told me with a straight face he doesn’t know,” recalled the former Emergency Task Force firearm and tactics instructor. “I told him he had to take his gun out and he again said he couldn’t do it and he didn’t know what was happening. When I took him aside and asked him what’s going on, the officer could not provide me with an answer. When I inquired when was the last time he used his firearm on the job, he said it was six months ago.”
The strange occurrence happened over a decade ago and it was not the last time.
“It started to happen in different ways,” said O’Doherty. “Some officers would take their guns out and begin to shake and others would blow rounds all over the place. After talking to a few officers who could not use their weapons when they came for use-of-force training, it dawned on me that they had all fired their guns on duty in the last year and they were so traumatized by the incidents that they could not take out their guns from their holsters and use them again.
“When I asked one of them what would happen the next time that person had to use his weapon on the job, the individual just froze. It was at that point I knew we were dealing with a major problem that had to be addressed.”
O’Doherty proposed that any officer who was involved in a shooting incident should talk to him before they undergo their annual practical shooting exercises.
“I wanted them to be in a controlled environment with just me and them,” he said. “I didn’t want them to be embarrassed and break down. We were going to talk and I would try to make them comfortable to the point where they would go out there and do the training without worrying too much about the last incident they were involved in.”
In 2004, O’Doherty drafted a proposal recommending a fireman exposure program as part of the operational debriefing of officers involved in shooting incidents prior to their return to regular duties.
“It was presented to the Occupational Health and Safety Board and the session was meant to be both non-qualifying and non-operational and designed to provide reassurance and education and promote confidence with the firearm,” he pointed out.
Despite the fact that the plan was not implemented at the time and he was no longer an instructor at the College, O’Doherty continued to promote and pursue his plan.
His persistence paid dividends as his idea was implemented last year.
It’s nice to be honoured for something you believe will make a difference in your workplace
“Anytime, an officer uses his weapon in the line of duty, their unit commander will set a date for that individual to attend the college and meet with a group of instructors who will talk to them about why they are there, and do everything to make them feel comfortable,” said O’Doherty, noting they will also practice on the range. “The next time, they will feel confident and competent when called upon to use their weapons. Use-of-force is just testing. Imagine being on the street and you are confronted with a situation where you are called upon to use your weapon and you freeze.”
Since the program inception, nearly 30 officers have attended the sessions at the college and the feedback has been consistently positive.
O’Doherty, who joined the Service 29 years ago and is now assigned to the Staff Planning Unit at headquarters, was recognized for his dedication, persistence and innovation with a Commendation Award on December 3 at police headquarters.
“It’s nice to be honoured for something you believe will make a difference in your workplace,” said the veteran cop.
The recipients included Constable Warren Bulmer who, seven years ago, was the officer in charge of an investigation into the production, distribution and possession of child abuse images. The suspect, who engaged other child exploiters in chat rooms and counseled them to commit criminal offences, was convicted in a Toronto court.
As a result of the Toronto investigation, one of the accused’s internet associates was arrested in Florida.
Jesse Marcano was convicted and is serving five mandatory life sentences.
“The sentences fit the crime,” said Bulmer. “It’s not one we are used to in Canada… When you are dealing with internet-related crime against children, it’s a on a global scale so ultimately the impact become more expanded.”
Toronto Police Services Board Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee said the award winners’ selfless acts of bravery and excellence in the performance of their work deserve full praise and commendation.
A total of 215 Service members and eight community representatives were recognized at the event.
“While we are celebrating individuals and the actions they have taken, and they deserve the recognition, what we are also celebrating is a community and real-life examples of what is needed to create a healthy and vibrant community.” he said. “…You set the example for what it means to be community-minded citizens.
Mukherjee also had high praise for the Service members honoured at the event.
“You are living examples of our Service’s core values and you have earned the trust of the people you serve,” he added. “You have also earned the respect of your peers and your moment in the spotlight tonight.”
Chief Blair acknowledged the recipients for going above and beyond the call of duty to make a difference and improve the quality of people’s lives.
“Tonight is a celebration of extraordinary citizenship, courage, compassion, innovation and teamwork,” said Blair. “The honourees, from our Service, our partners and the community, are just great role models and it’s nice to see all these kids that have come here tonight to get an opportunity to hear stories and to see these extraordinary role models.”
Teamwork commendations were also presented to officers and first-responders involved in the Danzig and Eaton Centre shootings in the summer of 2012.