By Alan Burke
PEABODY — Police officers need to switch tracks as easily as any train. One minute, they're dealing with dangerous, hard cases, and the next, they encounter a problem, and a person, requiring a soft tone and empathy.
MBTA police Sgt. Steven O'Hara of Peabody was able to find empathy earlier this month when he stopped a distraught man from leaping off the T parking garage in Quincy Center in the early hours of April 5.
On May 9, O'Hara will be awarded a commendation from his chief, Paul McMillan, for what the authority calls his "swift, effective and compassionate actions as a skilled negotiator."
O'Hara was the ideal person to deal with "Dan," who was found hanging his feet over the ledge of the four-story, concrete garage. The officer has been trained to negotiate with people in just this position.
But McMillan indicates that O'Hara brought more than his training to Dan, who threatened to jump if anyone attempted to snatch him.
"Police work is being able to read people," McMillan said. "Sometimes it's difficult to know what to do."
O'Hara engaged the would-be jumper, getting him to speak about a history of drug use and what it had done to his family. In reply, the sergeant quietly explained that there are other things the man could do, other steps he could take to improve matters.
In a little more than 15 minutes, he had the man off the ledge.
"A lot of it is quick thinking," McMillan said. "And knowing how to make a connection to someone."
The distraught man was taken to Quincy Hospital for evaluation. O'Hara is a veteran officer.