By Colleen Long
NEW YORK — Conor McDonald wasn't born yet when his dad, Steven, an NYPD officer, was shot - the bullet piercing his spine and paralyzing him.
On the day Conor was baptized, Steven McDonald read a statement forgiving the teenage shooter. Officially still an NYPD detective on sick leave, Steven McDonald has become a voice of tolerance, speaking on his experiences around the world.
Now, Conor McDonald is joining his father in the nation's largest police force. The 23-year-old was sworn in along with 1,200 other cadets Tuesday at a ceremony at York College nearly 24 years to the day after his father was shot.
"This is the greatest city in the world," Conor McDonald said. "There's a lot of love. I want to do my best to protect and serve the people that helped give my family a second life."
Impressed by the officer's resilience and positive attitude, the city rallied around the McDonalds after the shooting. Mayors and police officials laud him as a hero for his devotion to the department.
Conor McDonald and the others will undergo six months of rigorous training and learn tools of policing a city that looks very different from when his father was on the job.
"It's a dangerous world out there," he said. "We're going to learn from the best in the academy and do what we can to protect the city of New York."
In 1986, when Steven McDonald was 29 and on patrol, the murder rate was on a steady incline: 1,582 and rising through 1990, when it hit a high of 2,245 and made New York the murder capital of the world. McDonald's wife, Patti Ann, was three months pregnant with their only child.
McDonald and a partner were near Central Park on July 12 of that year when he spotted bicycle thief Shavod "Buddha" Jones and two other teens.
He went to frisk one suspect because he believed the boy had a weapon in his sock. Then, 15-year-old Jones pulled out a .22-caliber gun, shot McDonald three times and ran away. McDonald never walked again.
As Conor McDonald enters the academy, he faces different challenges. Murders, while up so far in 2010, remain historically low; in 2009, there were 466 murders. The city, once labeled gritty and unsafe, is now considered the "safest big city in America."
The major threat these days is not from gangs on the streets but from terrorists both homegrown and overseas. Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty last month to planting a failed car bomb in the heart of Times Square.
The new class of officers is diverse and hail from 45 different countries. They include Barry Driscoll, son of a police officer killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, and Christopher Galvez, an Army veteran wounded in Iraq and given the Purple Heart.
McDonald's parents say their son is in good company, though they are nervous about his chosen career.
"Conor will be fine. I am concerned as a mother, just like the families of any of the other 1,200 officers being sworn in today," said Patti McDonald, Conor's mother. "There's a lot of pride and a little nervousness."
Steven McDonald, now 53, has said what happened on the day he was shot was nothing less than God's will, intended to turn him into a messenger of God's word. He has met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela and has been interviewed by Barbara Walters and David Letterman. He co-wrote a book about his life and experiences with his wife, who in 2007 was elected mayor of Malverne, a quaint one-square-mile suburban community of about 9,000.
McDonald continues to travel and lecture about his experiences, urging peace, and advocate for stricter gun-control measures. Shavod Jones, sentenced to 10 years in prison, died in 1995 in a motorcycle accident days after his release.
Conor asked his third-grade class to keep Jones in their prayers. As his parents are proud of him, he's also proud of his family.
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"I come from four generations of NYPD ... It's the greatest thing in the world," Conor McDonald said.