WARREN - Although he just retired from the city police department, Sgt. Joe O'Grady said he's not ready to leave "the job" behind.
O'Grady hopes to continue working in law enforcement. He said he intends to officially announce at a retirement party tonight his plans to run for Trumbull County sheriff in 2016.
"What can I say? I love the job. I've loved being a cop. When I was young, all I ever wanted to be was a Warren police officer. This job was a dream come true for me," he said.
O'Grady, 56, a lifelong Warren resident, started out as a patrolman with the Warren City Police Department 22 years ago - joining the department March 19, 1992, at the age of 34. After high school, he worked for the city school district for several years before going to the police academy and working in Columbus for a year.
O'Grady acknowledged he's had a career marked by challenges, triumphs, tragedies and - at times - controversy. He's received proclamations and commendations from city leaders. He's also faced criticism.
"But it really is all in a day's work," he said. "You never know when you start your day what might happen, where you might end up going or who you'll see along the way."
Warren police Sgt. Joe O’Grady, 56, has retired after 22 years in the Warren Police Department. Photo by Virginia Shank
For example, in 2001, O'Grady jumped into the icy water of the pond at Quinby Park in an attempt to rescue 13-year-old Della Purbaugh. Despite his efforts to save her, the girl died.
In 1997, O'Grady was on patrol when he pulled up to a house on fire on Hall Street N.W. A woman stood outside screaming that her kids were still inside. O'Grady entered the house two or three times but was driven back by the thick smoke.
He finally crouched low enough to get up the stairs, found the children and pointed out where they were to firefighters arriving at the scene.
In 1993, he and another officer were involved in the shooting death of a man investigators said fatally shot a 20-day-old baby at close range. The officers said they heard the man fire a shot before they fired at him. Both officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
O'Grady was hurt when he was hit by a car during a traffic stop. He helped break up bar fights. He also delivered two babies.
Through it all he said he learned the importance of being honest with people and "telling them like it is."
"You really learn about people real fast. It's like getting a four-year college degree in human behavior in one year on the streets," he said. "No matter what, I've been in a lot of people's lives. For the good or the bad, they know me."
His friends and fellow officers describe O'Grady's police career as one more area in his life that reflects his commitment to his community.
O'Grady served as the past president of Main Street Warren. He was instrumental in establishing David Grohl Alley, a tribute to the Warren native who is frontman for the rock band Foo Fighters and was drummer for Nirvana.
"One thing about Joe is that he's very passionate with the stuff he gets involved with. He's full on board," Warren Councilman Greg Bartholomew said.
Bartholomew credits O'Grady with transforming the alley from an "eyesore" into a colorfully painted attraction that the city can be proud of. The back door of Bartholomew's business leads to David Grohl Alley.
Warren police Chief Eric Merkel credits O'Grady with teaching him the ropes and "indoctrinating" him into the police department.
"He was my first training officer. He started in 1992 and I started in 1995. We rode together then and we've been friends ever since," Merkel said.
"He's very community-oriented police officer. It was always more about the person and why they're in their situation. He's always really cared about the people. He's always had a way of talking to them," Merkel said.
His sister, Warren police Lt. Cathy O'Grady, said if anything, her brother has gone out of his way to help when possible.
"It's like he just goes right in and helps, not thinking of himself. At the pond or the fire. He's always said it's part of the job," she said.
O'Grady said he was content riding in a patrol vehicle, being on the streets each night, connecting with the people.
"I tell people if they want to know what my job is like, watch 'Cops.' Only on the job, we're unedited," he said.
Patrolman Brian Crites said O'Grady is "the same guy at work" as he is in the community.
"I've known him 20 years. In fact, he drove my bus when I went to Western Reserve School. We both grew up on the west side. He knows a lot of people and they can count on him to help, be involved in the community. He'll be missed at the police department."
For younger police officers coming up the ranks, O'Grady has plenty of advice:
"Never say you've seen it all because just when you say it sure enough you'll see something beyond anything you would have imagined. You'll see something you've never seen before, something you never thought you ever would."
Another piece of advice from the veteran officer?
"Try to see the humor in things as much as possible. With a job like this, some days your best bet is to have some humor to get you through a shift," he said.
Recently, during one of his final shifts on the Warren police beat, O'Grady said that along with the people and the job, he will miss "Car 54." The SUV was named after the TV sitcom "Car 54, Where Are You?" that ran from 1961 to 1963 and was about two New York police officers. The show was based at the fictional 53rd precinct in The Bronx. Car 54 was their patrol car.
O'Grady's "Car 54" might have been an SUV, but that was OK with him.
"You have to have some fun, enjoy yourself and be true to yourself and other people," he said. "You have to be real, do the best you can and no matter what keep on going."