Retired MBTA Transit Police Sgt. Dic Donohue ’12 is a model of resiliency.
In 2013, Donohue was shot during a police firefight with the Boston Marathon bombers in Watertown. The next thing he knew, he was in the hospital, unable to walk.
Although Donohue returned to work after two years of grueling rehab, chronic pain forced him into early retirement. So he turned to teaching, starting as an adjunct at Fisher College. He enjoyed it and decided to pursue his Ph.D. in criminology at UML.
Now 39 years old, he has just completed his dissertation on police training methods – and accepted a job as a researcher at the RAND Corp.’s Boston office.
Since recovering from the shooting, he’s also worked as a trainer with the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance’s VALOR program, speaking with police officers of all ranks about personal resiliency and family and community support.
“I’m not supposed to be here – but here I am. Plans change, and you’ve just got to roll with the punches,” he says. “I talk about what happens on the home front and tell them there are a lot of people who will help you, not just police, but community-wide. You’ve just got to open your eyes, realize they’re out there and ask them for help.”
Donohue graduated from Virginia Military Institute, served in the Navy and then earned a master’s degree in tourism from the University of Limerick in Ireland. He worked in international tourism for a few years before deciding he wanted to get back in uniform.
“I had a yearning to be in a job that had a higher calling, where I could really get out and serve my community,” he says.
Donohue was accepted to the MBTA Transit Police Academy and became a transit police officer in 2010. He earned a master’s degree in criminal justice online, through UML’s Division of Online and Continuing Education, a few months before his first son was born. (He now has three.)
Five months later, the wound that he suffered in the gun battle in Watertown severed his femoral artery. He almost bled to death.
Based on his own academy experience, the shooting and his work with VALOR, Donohue began thinking about ways to improve police training. For example, only one paramedic was on the scene in Watertown, and many police officers didn’t carry tourniquets or have training in emergency combat care. If there had been more casualties, other officers could have died unnecessarily, he says.
So, for his dissertation, Donohue researched the effectiveness of different police training methods, comparing the traditional classroom approach with a newer approach that combines classroom learning with hands-on exercises.
“Police training is a hot topic, and everybody’s talking about adding new trainings – and that’s great,” he says. “But are we doing it right? Is sitting in a class being lectured to or watching a PowerPoint effective? Are they soaking in that knowledge, or is it just butts in seats, a passive audience?”
Donohue’s research results were inconclusive, yet still provide an understanding of the changes in police recruit training programs. But there’s one clear lesson he learned from the shooting: Don’t let yourself become complacent, whether you’re a trainee, an active-duty law enforcement officer or a police academy instructor.
“I was complacent beforehand. I didn’t wear my bulletproof vest every day; I didn’t carry the tools I needed every single day. As a police officer, you never know what could happen to you on that shift – and what happened to me on that shift was very nearly deadly,” he says. “A lot of it comes down to training like you mean it and not just going through the motions. That’s important to me.”
His research and outreach work are his ways of continuing to serve, even out of uniform.
“It comes back to staying engaged in the law enforcement community in retirement and hopefully being able to create some positive change and help the profession continue to grow,” he says.