Personal Reflections of Officer Bernie Domagala
Three days ago Officer Bernie Domagala passed away as a result of injuries he suffered July 14, 1988. That’s right 29 years ago. He was a 37-year-old officer assigned to the Chicago Police Department’s HBT unit. That is was what we called SWAT back then. He looked around the corner towards a barricaded subject who fired a shot at him from 100 feet away. He was struck in the forehead. The county Medical Examiner ruled this a homicide, reported the Chicago Sun Times.
Officer Bernie Domagala
This officer was 37-years-old with three young children when he was shot. His family and his job were the two most important things in his life. He was fortunate he had the support of a good strong family. Confined to a wheelchair and suffering from brain damage he suffered for all this time.
I haven’t seen it announced yet but I sure he will have an honors funeral. He deserves one and his family deserves to see our department’s show of support for them.
For 29 years this officer suffered on disability. How many other officers do you know who suffer for years due to injuries sustained in the line of duty? Those injuries might not be from such a high-profile incident. Slip and fall on icy front stairs injuring your back. A neck injury that never gets better after a squad car accident, or a broken ankle that never heals right after a jump over a fence. I know officers with these problems and more. They are all either retired or on disability now. The job ended for them but the pain continues.
I’m sure you know so many too. Not to mention the worn-out knees and back strain from wearing a utility belt. Heart strain from too much fried food. Chronic fatigue from never getting a good night’s sleep because you work midnights. This job beats the hell out of everyone who wears a star.
If you’re fortunate, like Officer Domagala, you have a family that can rally round you and makes your life bearable. But what if you don’t have the family to support you like that? What do you do when the pain gets so bad that you sleep on your sofa because you can’t do the stairs up to your bedroom at night? What do you do when it seems to be too much to go on anymore?
Often that pain isn’t so obvious. Often it is well hidden. Sadly, when we look back we can usually see how their pain progressed over the years. Perhaps the officer spent too many nights in the tavern. Maybe they became reclusive in their ways. Many times, they became mean spirited and temperamental driving away the few friends they had left.
If you make it to retirement you know a few officers killed in the line of duty. Their photos are on the wall in the station and their stars hang in a showcase. But what about the ones who suffered as long as they could and then picked up that gun that they carried for so many years and end their pain.
Helping Partners in Need
When you were riding in a squad, if you heard an officer cry for help you would race to the scene risking your safety and well-being because they need you. You knew they would do the same for you. Why is it that once that officer is no longer active duty we stop racing to help?
Here in Chicago, we have several great support groups for officers. They reach out and help everyone they can. I know they’ve gotten up in the middle of the night and raced to someone’s home because they got a call for help. Despite this, we still have a tragic problem with officer and retiree suicides here and across the country.
We once referred to aggressive preventative patrol and proactive policing. We prided ourselves in looking for bad guys and stopping problems before they got out of control. For many reasons, obvious to most of you, there isn’t much of that anymore. We still need to be proactive and aggressive in taking care of each other. We can still provide back up and support. Only now what we need to do is reach out to them and give them an ear to listen, a shoulder to lend emotional support and a friend to cover their back.
If you know a disabled officer or retiree who needs some emotional help give it to them. Get them in contact with your local department’s counselors. Once you risked your life backing them up on calls, why do you stop now?
Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to let them know someone still cares. Don’t we go to enough funerals from our friends dying of cancer and heart disease? Do whatever you can to help each other. If you don’t know who to call try your union or department human resources. They’ll be happy to steer you to the right people.
Back each other up out there, even after you retire.
Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union, serving as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.