As a Norwalk police sergeant, David Orr knows that the general public is eager to hear cops’ “war stories.”
But, he says, no one wants to hear the details of a Newtown officer who actually entered a Sandy Hook classroom. Or of the scene inside a Cheshire home, where a woman and her 2 daughters were raped, doused with gasoline, tied down and murdered.
As president of Norwalk’s police union, Orr — a 1993 graduate of Staples High School, where he played football and lacrosse, sang in the choir, played in the band and drummed with a popular group, Antique Blues — Orr has served as a peer counselor to colleagues during stressful professional or personal times.
He’s been there for them after heinous murders, horrific accidents, and the deaths of children.
Orr — who joined Norwalk’s force in 2001, after graduating from Northeastern University and serving with the New York City Police Department — advocates for his union members through collective bargaining, labor rights and discipline.
Just as important is fighting for mental health coverage. Eighteen states do not recognize a mental health injury — including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — as an injury to be compensated for under worker’s compensation. Connecticut is one of those 18.
Which is how Orr found himself in Washington, DC late last month. His national union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — asked him to testify before President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
It was a big deal. Orr would represent all of law enforcement. The event would be televised live on C-SPAN. The panel included the most powerful people in Orr’s professions — chiefs of police from Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Tucson — plus civil rights activists and academics.
“It was intimidating. I’m not going to lie,” Orr says.
But he prepared well.
He spoke about officers from Newtown — men who counted body parts, and saw and smelled incomprehensible carnage — who have been denied workman’s compensation.
“They were forced to go back to work or lose their jobs,” Orr said. “Many did not get the mental health care they needed, nor did they get sufficient time off from work to recover.”
He noted that police officers at work while suffering from PTSD can be a danger to themselves, or others. The lack of worker’s comp may also force officers to not admit they have PTSD, with serious consequences.
Orr described how, in the weeks after Sandy Hook, he and hundreds of other officers from around the state volunteered to cover shifts for the Newtown Police Department. They did it because their brothers and sisters in Newtown were exhausted physically — “and even more so emotionally.”
Back in Connecticut, Orr says, “I hope I represented my brethren well, and delivered the message I wanted to.”
He did. At a state AFCSME meeting, fellow board members praised his testimony.
And Orr’s direct quotes were included in a 128-page task force final report.
“It’s pretty amazing to think President Obama will read my words,” Orr says.
It will be even better if those words lead to action.