Donald O’Connor is a patrol sergeant for the Roswell Police department. At the time of this interview he was their training officer. We found his perspective so inspiring that we decided to keep the story.
It’s not a job he ever anticipated, but he wouldn’t trade for the life it’s given him.
“I fell into it,” he said. “It was not in my plan. My wife, who I was dating at the time, was going to school in Las Cruces. The state police left a recruitment flier on her door. She came to me and said, ‘You work on the farm. No benefits. No retirement. You don’t have a lot going on, why don’t you try this?’ The next thing I know I’m getting yelled at in Santa Fe.”
Initially O’Connor worked for the New Mexico State Police.
“I started with the state police in 2002,” he said. “I was stationed in Clayton, New Mexico. I lived there for seven years. I requested a transfer and the state police said it would be another two years before I could transfer. My wife got a job in Roswell and I wasn’t going to live apart from her and kids for two years. So, I applied to the Roswell Police Department and got hired. I’ve been with the city since 2010. All told, I’ve been a policeman a little over 16 years.”
The variety and novelty of the job keeps it interesting for him.
“It’s always something new,” O’Connor said. “You deal with the same people day in and day out but every day there’s something that didn’t happen before. You’re always busy. There’s always something that you haven’t seen. Just when you think, ‘I’ve seen most everything.’ something new will happen. It’s never dull. There are a lot of things that happen in this career that don’t happen anywhere else.”
O’Connor enjoys teaching new officers. He learns more by teaching than he ever did before.
“I do all the in-house training for new officers,” he said. “Sometimes we have a lateral transfer. It’s my job to make sure they do things the same way our officers are trained to.”
“I enjoy the training position. I’ve learned a lot in this job that I didn’t expect to. One benefit of being the training officer is that I’ve learned how to explain things better.”
“I’m a master firearms instructor. I love firearms. Even as a kid I loved to go plinking. When I became a firearms instructor I realized I had to re-think how I do things so that I could teach others how to do them. It’s about looking for the outcome you want and figuring out how to get them there.”
“I teach use of force, ethics, baton and I assist with defensive tactics. Normally, I wind up being the demonstration dummy for the defensive tactics instructor. I make sure they understand the codes. Codes are used to tell an officer what he’s responding to faster. They also keep people with scanners from running out to a bomb threat.”
“Ninety-nine percent of our training is in-house. They have to go through a certified state academy. We use the one in Santa Fe or the satellite in Hobbs the most. We get them functional, and the academy gets them certified. The state academies run 16 weeks in Santa Fe and 17 weeks in Hobbs.”
Like most people who prefer careers of service, O’Connor soothes his weary soul in his family’s love.
“I love spending time with my kids,” he said. “We have a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old. Both my boys are in Boy Scouts and soccer. My oldest runs track at Roswell High. My daughter is in Girl Scouts and she will do anything in theater that she can do. She’s active with all the theater groups in town and in our church. My wife and I don’t have much time alone, but we do take the occasional date night.”
Before his days as a trainer, O’Connor worked the Crime Scene Unit. It was stressful, but they made it work out together.
“When I was in the Crime Scene Unit,” he said, “my wife was almost a single parent. If the phone rang, ‘Sorry honey, I gotta go.’ If it was a homicide I could be gone up to 20 hours easily. My first year in the Crime Scene Unit, we’d planned a barbecue for my birthday. I got the grill going and the phone rang.”
“Now that I’m in training that’s slowed down so I have more time to be with my family again. One of the blessings I’ve had through my entire career has been my wife’s support. Every time the kids need something and I can’t be there, she steps up. She’s always been there. Any time I’ve told her I wanted to do something in my career, she’s said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, we’ll make it work.’”
O’Connor sees training as far more than a formal position. He sees it as part of any officer’s job.
“Understand that you will be a training officer at some point in your career,” he said. “Whether or not you take the training position, you’re still going to have someone in that car with you that you’re going to be training. Learn to be that good instructor. If you can be a good instructor then when you retire, your department will be better for your work.”
O’Connor teaches because he’s curious. He always wants to learn. He believes in learning to teach.
“In one of my presentations,” he said, “I teach that, ‘You learn five to ten percent of what you hear, twenty-five percent of what you read, forty to fifty percent of what you do and eighty to ninety percent of what you teach.’ So if you learn it to teach it, you’ll really know it. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to be an instructor.”