Officer Spotlight: Meet Retired NYPD Det. Rob O’Donnell, A National Voice for Law Enforcement

Many people in America are doing a lot for the law enforcement community. But some other people are doing a lot for law enforcement – like Rob O’Donnell.

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Retired NYPD Detective Rob O’Donnell has had a brilliant law enforcement career. He’s helped solve countless high-profile cases in New York City – aka Gotham.

But what he’s doing now as a retired officer far outreaches every accolade he’s earned in his illustrious career. 

Rob currently hosts a radio show and is frequently seen on major news networks discussing all things law enforcement. But one of his most vital messages comes from defending law enforcement officers and being the national voice we desperately need. 

Now Rob sat down with Law Enforcement Today in an exclusive interview to discuss all things policing. 

Law Enforcement Leadership

One of the common complaints we receive at LET is the lack of effective leadership within departments. Every officer knows a superior who should not have been promoted. However, due to testing procedures or old-fashioned politics, many officers get promoted to supervisory roles despite being unfit for the position. 

With a career as deep as Rob O'Donnell's, he’s seen it repeatedly. He recalled being in a unit with very toxic leadership. But he’s learned how to deal with it. So, he offered valuable advice.

“One of the good things about policing is there's usually always an opportunity to move somewhere else. And it might not be desirable, it might be more dangerous, it might be something you really didn't think you were interested in doing, but look into it and make those decisions,” Rob said.

He continued, “And know your policies. You’re not there to be bullied. You’re not there to be demeaned. You have to stand your ground as far as that goes.”

Post-Covid Law Enforcement

A lot has changed with law enforcement after Covid shut the world down. It changed even more after the George Floyd incident and the follow-up riots and demonization of police. 

Rob has insight into how everything changed and what the solution is to make the profession respectable and noble again.

“We are a society now that only reads the headlines and maybe the first two lines of the story we have, even though we have these supercomputers on our hips and our palms 24/7. We have the most uninformed society that I've ever seen in this day and age because we only want to believe what we're told or what we seek out. You know, we have confirmation bias,” he said.

“So the misinformation, the misunderstanding of what law enforcement does, the willingness to just be angry at something, and if you give them that target of being police, they're there.”

Staying quiet and complacent is just not in his DNA. With all the experience and knowledge Rob has acquired over the years, he made a conscious decision to do something about it. He pursued solutions.

“So I made it my motive to get that word out there. I started speaking out. I started going on radio stations. I started going on Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN because I was retired,” Rob said.

He continued, “And one of the problems with law enforcement is most of your police chiefs and your police commissioners are appointed. So they're going to hold the same political agenda as the mayor because they want their job or they want the next bigger job. So they're not going to rock that boat.

"We've seen it with some of our elected sheriffs standing up for the law enforcement community. But by policy, our rank-and-file officers aren't allowed to talk. They're not allowed to defend themselves. They're not allowed to tell people what the facts are, even if it's the most mundane thing. They're just not allowed to speak to the public.”

Since retirement, Rob has become a voice that officers everywhere need. 

He is using his voice, his platform, and even mainstream media platforms to defend officers and our profession and fight against the anti-police rhetoric plaguing America. 

But he is more than a great debater – he’s using proven statistics.

“I started bringing those facts out there, and I started with officer deadly use-of-force shooting incidents and broke down those numbers statistically. And when you break that down to its most core value, you are more likely to be struck by lightning in America than you ought to be a person of color unarmed and shot by the police,” Rob said.

He continued, “And once you throw those factual numbers out there, they're hard to combat because you know you have the statistics. The statistics are simply black and white. You can try and manipulate them all you want, which they do, and just keep saying that. Even the harshest critics of the Police Department would see those numbers and go, ‘Wow.’ And people in media would hear those numbers, and they'd have their fact-checkers check it and say, ‘Hey, you were right with those numbers’. That's why I'm here.”

No other profession carries as much visibility as law enforcement. There are multiple layers of oversight and coverage: department leadership, Internal Affairs, Quality Assurance divisions, DA’s, civil rights, and federal law enforcement agencies. Now, many municipalities have civilian oversight committees as well. 

They each look into use-of-force incidents for a variety of reasons. And it can be complicated.

Rod told LET, “They're supposed to review things and say, ‘OK, did this officer do the job right?’ Was it just a simple mistake where you're in a chaotic situation, the right choices weren't made, or did he do a criminal act, or did he commit willful negligence? We've skipped that totally, and we've condemned officers moments after the situation has happened simply because of demographics, simply because of the color of one and the other. And we have to get away from that because that's not what we're based on in America.”

Another reality with media is that controversy sells papers. And many media outlets want to create controversy and rile up readers and viewers for ratings and to sell papers, which is both dangerous and irresponsible.

“Look at the headlines that are out there where you know ‘white officer kills black man,’ and then you read two paragraphs down and the black man had a knife and was charging someone after he stabbed two people or you know a black officer shoots a white person. They've [the media] gone to this motive of revenue-driven instead of fact-based driven media,” Rob said.

Defund the Police

Another movement that has unfortunately settled in shortly after the Floyd incident is the Defund the Police movement. Many politicians and anti-police advocates across America jumped on the bandwagon. 

And many departments were defunded. 

Although many officials are now acknowledging that defunding the police was a poor strategy, it left a bad taste in the mouths of current and retired officers everywhere.

And it is impacting the future of law enforcement. Many people who were once aspiring to become officers have changed course and are pursuing different career paths. Now, there is a dangerous shortage of officers nationwide. 

“You can't get people to do this job anymore. We've seen them lower the standards. We've seen that in LA. They're hiring DACA recipients who aren't federally allowed to carry guns, and they're waiving the laws in California so they can carry guns off-duty. They've resorted to that because they've demonized the profession so much now they don't know what to do with themselves,” Rob said.

The repercussions of defunding police are going to be an issue for a long time. And according to Rob, for years.

“For every year of ‘defund the police’, and I've said this from the start, it's going to take five and six years to correct that because you've already driven these people out. These cities have already made their bed and they’re lying in it,” Rob said. “Now you have to recruit. Now you have to change the mindset; you have to change the reputation out there.”

Rob used New York City as an example of how to turn a city around into something extraordinary. The drug industry of the 80’s crippled the city. But with the help of more police officers and supportive leadership up to the mayor, New York City was saved. 

But today’s leadership is different. 

“One of the biggest things I remember from the early 90s is the chief of the department had your back, the police commissioner had your back, the mayor had your back. If you did the right thing, they had your back. They got in front of the media, got in front of the press, got in front of the people that didn't like the police and said, ‘No, we support them 100%,’” Rob said. “We don't have that anymore because you have politicians who are cowards, you have police leadership who are cowards, you have city administrators who are cowards.”

He continued, “They just want to go with what the community, what the masses are going to do because they're worried about the next election, they're worried about the next job, they're worried about what's next. You know what police officers are worried about - getting home that night.”

With the recent lack of support from higher-ups, many officers have retired early or simply left the job altogether. This left a huge gap in experience in departments nationwide. That also means many younger officers are given more roles and responsibilities than they may be ready for. 

And if that sounds familiar, Rob has solid advice for you.

“Know the policies and procedures. Because I'm telling you right now, these young supervisors in law enforcement don't. Some of your administrators don't,” Rob said. “I can tell you right now, the mayor of New York does not know because I worked with him. We were cops together.”

He continued, “The more you know to protect yourself, the more you know the policies and proper procedures, [then] maybe you're able to stop something before it becomes big. A supervisor comes on the scene and says, ‘Well, you're not allowed to do that,’. Because of this policy, I can do this and I can articulate it and justify it.”

If you act in good faith and follow your policies and procedures, you will be victorious in the end. 

Unfortunately, that may not stop an officer from getting into a legal complication first, which has been a common theme in recent years. And that’s why Rob strongly supports and promotes the Pipe Hitter Foundation. 

The Pipe Hitter Foundation is committed to defending the rights and freedoms of our men and women in uniform - the same rights and freedoms they risk their lives to uphold. They provide financial support and legal defense to officers and military members who are unjustly caught in legal binds.

“You know when you're dealing with the government, be it the military, be it your city, be it state DA, be it a District Attorney, they have unlimited resources. A police officer out there, a deputy sheriff, a correction officer, someone in the military does not have unlimited resources,” Rob said. “They can bankrupt you simply by accusing you of something and bring you to court. So we filled that gap and started the Pipe Hitter Foundation. We've raised millions of dollars to support them in their battle, giving them that voice nationwide.”

He continued, “Obviously, [police officers] don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the best lawyers. A lot of times they'll get a union lawyer. A lot of times they have to get their own lawyer that's just not specializing in what they're up against. We fill that gap and help them. So we've done that and they're doing great things across the country with that.”

Rob is going to continue fighting on behalf of all law enforcement officers everywhere. He is going to be that voice we need. And with the help of the Pipe Hitter Foundation, they are going to make law enforcement the noble profession it is meant to be. 

Follow Rob O’Donnell on Twitter by clicking here. Stay tuned for more updates about the Pipe Hitter Foundation and some of the cases they are handling. 
For corrections or revisions, click here.
The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
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