In 2003-2004, John O’Connor was part of a team that was training Iraq’s new police force. They had set up five individual police stations that were also in charge of corrections and internment resettlement. During that time they were attacked with an improvised explosive device(IED). Another time his unit was in a firefight and his face was slammed down into a gun, causing facial injuries that required reconstructive surgery. And another time while doing a building entry, he took shots to the chest, saved by his Small Arms Protective (SAPI) Plate. During O’Connor’s tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was involved in over 400 combat missions and hundreds of building entries. During that time he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with valor and while in Iraq was promoted to Sergeant. In his military career, he was involved in 65 jumps as a paratrooper.
O’Connor worked in law enforcement at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. As a supervisor, he was responsible for 20-35 patrols, over 500 square miles consisting of personnel, civilians, railways, etc. While at Ft. Bagg he participated in over 147 undercover narcotics investigations and was purchasing drugs through different states and regions working with multiple agencies.
After that, he went to Canine school and was assigned a patrol explosive detector dog. He supported the Secret Service, and FBI dignitaries and even had the opportunity to support the UN G20 summit and the support of the former presidents of the United States, and the President United States.
In 2008 he was hired by the Prince George’s County Police Department. During this time, O’Connor lost over 27 friends and family, some to combat, some to suicide. He then lost his grandfather on New Year’s Eve. Dealing with the emotions of all of this, O’Connor was drinking a lot. “After seeing everything and dealing with everything that I went through, I found myself you know, in a situation where there was no other help. So I was just drinking a lot. And that was my way to cope with it. It was drinking, and it was going to work. So for me, that situation was probably the worst moment in my life. I had lost all my faith in God. I had, you know, there was nothing that anybody could have told me that would have made me believe that there was anything positive in life.” O’Connor said in an interview During this time, O’Connor received a DUI, and he was found not guilty, but ultimately resigned.
“I met a pastor, Pastor Jenkins, for First Baptist Church went on, and he, you know, he really led me back into my, my faith and recovery. So after that, I was able to go back because I was found not guilty, and I resigned, got my life together, and was able to rejoin the police department. And I started with Fairmont Heights police. I enjoyed my time there. While I was there, the experiences, size of the department, and the mayor, and when the chief left they made me the acting police chief, and it opened my world up to the administrative side of law enforcement. And I used all the tools that I had from the military and the experience with the administrative side and really put it to work there.”
Later on, he was offered a position at the Seat Pleasant Police Department. “I took that job and I stayed with the City of Seat Pleasant Police Department for a long time. During that, I attended accident reconstruction school; levels one, two, and three. FBI hate crimes training, motor school. The New York City Police Department on the undercover narcotics investigation. “
During his time as an officer in P.G. County and Seat Pleasant, O’Connor attended college and received his A.A. degree in Criminal Justice from Kaplan University and his B.S. degree in Management Systems from the Johns Hopkins University. You can view O’Connor’s complete work history here.
In 2014 he was elected to the St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners. O’Connor has now served two terms and was prepared to run for a third, until April 15, 2022, the state filing deadline, he withdrew for re-election as County Commissioner and filed for St. Mary’s County Sheriff. “I accomplished many great things over the past eight years as County Commissioner of District 3 and have been eager to serve in an even greater role. When Commission President Randy Guy indicated he might not file for re-election, it was naturally a good time for me to step up. After he changed his mind, I opted to withdraw, O’Connor said. I had considered running for Sheriff of St. Mary’s County many times over the years, but doing so could have jeopardized my wife’s career. She retired from the Sheriff’s Office last month(April 2022).”
Current Sheriff Tim Cameron is retiring, leaving the Office to a new leader. Captain Steve Hall, Sgt(ret.) Todd Fleenor and O’Connor are all vying for the elected position.
The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office will face many challenges following this election, and one is staffing. Over the past year, numerous officers and staff have retired.
O’Connor was asked about recruitment and retention of new officers and lateral moves (officers coming from other departments). ” An aggressive recruitment and retention plan that includes substantial hiring bonuses, home buying assistance, and longevity bonuses. So it costs $138,000, to hire. train, and equip a deputy. So I do believe that there should be a contract in place[For those attending SoMd Criminal Justice Academy], that if you’re hired as a deputy, that, let’s say you don’t take a bonus, at a minimum, the return on investment needs to be there for the training. So let’s say three years, that you’re going to go ahead and sign or you’re going to, you’re going to reimburse for the cost to the taxpayers for what that Academy is, it has to be reasonable because the law says it has to be reasonable.”
“If you’re talking about the hiring bonuses, which when I mean substantial, I’m talking about anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. And a hiring bonus, lateral officers on the higher side of that bonus, and there absolutely there needs to be a contract in place. You know, if you’re talking a $25,000 investment for an entry-level officer plus all of that training, I’m looking at a five-year contract.”
O’Connor also discussed the possibility of a home buyer’s credit or incentive.
One of O’Connor’s plans to curb traffic crashes and injuries is to beef up the traffic Enforcement Unit. He wants a minimum five-person traffic enforcement unit and anti-crime unit. O’Connor would scrap the plans for a new Sheriff’s Office($26M) and occupy more of the District buildings they have. With the money saved from that, he wants to immediately hire 25 deputies within a year.
“I know I can send them through different academies throughout the entire state of Maryland and get those 25 deputies trained and on the road in a year. So that’s done. We get patrol to the right staffing levels. We need a traffic enforcement unit. That’s more than two people for this county. With the service population that’s well over 175,000, not just the people that live here. So we’re talking during the day, the population of the county can go up to well over 200,000. So minimum of five persons in the traffic enforcement unit and anti-crime unit. The Anti-Crime Unit is something that needs to exist in perpetuity. It needs to be there and not go away and is working in conjunction with the Criminal Investigation Division. Because CID is doing the investigations, they’re working the intelligence, the anti-Crime Unit is gathering that intelligence, and they’re executing everything together. And that’s how the system would work. So you’d have a traffic enforcement unit and an anti-crime unit that works in conjunction with CID. The traffic enforcement unit, because there is a lack of proactive traffic enforcement in the county, you’re gonna get your guns and your drugs easily off of traffic stops. And you can do that through the entire county. It’s not just about changing traffic behavior.”
What are your 3 biggest priorities in your first 90 days? 120?
90 Days – Restructure the department for modern-day policing, review all policy and procedures to find those that are antiquated or overly burdensome, increase morale for the officers by having their input into change, and fill all vacancies.
120 days- The 120 overlaps with the 90. Lower violent crime immediately, disrupt the gang activity, and implement the traffic unit.
The Southern Maryland Chronicle is covering the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office race, along with several other races. We will have more on Commissioner O’Connor’s campaign priorities next week. You can read about the other sheriff’s Office candidate, Sgt. Todd Fleenor here. Captain Steve Hall has not responded to an email with questions nor a request for an interview.