In view of his leadership following the 12/14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president of the Newtown Police Union has received the Labor Leader of the Year Award for 2013 from Council 15, which is an association of nearly 4,000 police officers in more than 60 communities in Connecticut.
Police Patrol Officer Scott Ruszczyk, 44, who joined the police department in June 1993, received the award from Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Labor-Council of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
Award ceremonies were held recently in Atlantic City, N.J.
Last December 14, a 20-year-old gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook School on Dickinson Drive, after which he used a military-style semiautomatic rifle to kill 20 first-graders and six educators. The gunman shot and killed himself as police approached. The shooter had also shot and killed his mother at their Sandy Hook home before the attack on the school.
As union president, Ofc Ruszczyk represents 43 of the 45 sworn members of the police department. Only the chief and captain have separate labor contracts with the town.
After receiving the award, Ofc Ruszczyk spoke on the topic, ‘Union Challenges When Faced By A Critical Incident.”
Ofc Ruszczyk said, “My union will never forget the day when we called for help on December 14, 2012. Eighty police departments responded with over four hundred officers.”
Also, Council 15 provided the Newtown Police Department with a psychotherapist after the therapist that had been chosen by the town did not work out, Ofc Ruszczyk added.
Additionally, Council 15 led an efforts to get state law changed to protect police officers from the consequences of mass casualty incidents, he said.
Ofc Ruszczyk told Council 15 members that the town has always had a good working relationship with the local news media, adding that those media members were polite, respectful, and understanding of the affected families’ feelings following the shooting tragedy.
He added, however, that such was not the case with various news networks and international news organizations.
Ofc Ruszczyk observed, “After a mass casualty incident like this, your whole department is going to change significantly… Prior to this incident, there wasn’t a lot of crying or hugging going on in my department. That has changed.
“People who are inclined to help will be even more helpful than usual, but people who are ‘jerks’ will go out of their way to prove that they are the biggest jerks you have ever met,” he said.
On the topic of guilt, he said, “There will be a lot of guilt — both for those who responded and those who did not… It will not be a rational reaction, but it is one that will impact the majority of your department, one way or the other… The guilt will not only have a professional impact, but a personal one as well.”
Ofc Ruszcyk added, “Some of the officers will have seen or have endured more than can reasonably asked of any one person… I’m not normally someone who lets his emotions get the best of them at work. There were times that the drive home from work was very difficult.
“During the most chaotic time in Newtown’s history, the president of the United States came to town and needed officers for security and ‘photo-ops,’” he said.
“Some politicians will tell you that you have a blank check, smile and shake your hand… Don’t believe everything you hear,” he said.
Ofc Ruszczyk noted that the police chief, captain, two lieutenants, and two sergeants were all first responders to Sandy Hook School incident.
Also, the police union’s vice president, secretary, treasurer, and two trustees were either first responders or detectives who assisted state police during five days of evidence collection, he said.
In the aftermath of 12/14, the town called for outside help from police departments in the surrounding area and the union called for help from Council 15, Ofc Ruszczyk said.
The union president described what he would do differently if he were to face similar circumstance again. He said he would accept all the help that is possible. While AFSCME and Council 15 provided enormous help to the Newtown Police Union, Ofc Ruszczyk said he should have sought even more help from them.
Also, Ofc Ruszczyk said he would delegate authority to police officers’ wives to field telephone calls and e-mails concerning union donations.
It is necessary for the union president to check on the condition of his members on a continuing basis, he said.
“As a union executive board member, you have a level of trust and respect that not even the chief of police has,” he said.
“I called the first responders daily. I made a list and called three or four a day, just to make sure that they were oaky. This is not a job that can be delegated, but it must be done,” Ofc Ruszczyk said.