Retired Irvington Police Sergeant Kenneth Hogan, who 25 years ago survived being shot in the head, spine, shoulder and hand, offered a fiery and emotional strategy Tuesday for police officers to follow every day of their dangerous profession.
Know your vehicle like your own body and resolve to live with the philosophy “I’m not going to let them kill me,” Sergeant Hogan told a group of 100 law enforcement officers gathered at the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy for his presentation “Surviving An Armed Encounter.”
Yet, if death is approaching, fill your mind with thoughts of loved ones, Sergeant Hogan advised, as he alternately raged about the deaths of police officers before becoming tearful as he confessed he can hardly bear to attend any more funerals for fallen officers.
“Who will you think about the moment you’re taking your last breath? Make that person part of your plan to live,” he said.
The seminar was hosted by Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon and the Morris County Office of Emergency Management as both an inspiration for preparedness and a reminder of the perils of police work.
The presentation is Sergeant Hogan’s gift to law enforcement, and one he has delivered around the country, including to the FBI National Academy. His seminar Tuesday was filled with anecdotes about his impoverished upbringing in Irvington and how he passed a troubled early youth before an Irvington police officer changed the course of his life by forcing him to work as a dispatcher for a rescue squad and then persuaded him to apply to the police force.
Sergeant Hogan’s mentor, the late Irvington Officer Anthony Garaffa, was on-duty when he was shot to death in 1984 by a local man who inexplicably pulled a sawed-off shotgun on him.
“Tony, my super hero, made me a man. He made me a respectable human being,” Sergeant Hogan said. As crime, homicides, car chases and use of crack cocaine, started in the 1980’s to change the once-bucolic culture of Irvington, Sergeant Hogan said, he began to resolve each day that he wouldn’t die.
“Clear your head and have a plan to live,” he advised.
A decade after Officer Garaffa’s death, Sergeant Hogan – though he then was a patrol officer – was on-duty and parked in Irvington on Jan. 24, 1994, by a known crack house when a young man wearing a hoodie walked slowly toward his police car. Sergeant Hogan said he watched the man and called out to him as the man walked behind his police vehicle.
In that instant, the hooded man fired a bullet from a Sig Sauer into the Sergeant’s patrol car. Hogan said he heard more pops getting closer and dropped to the floor of his car with a plan to ease open a door and snake his way out. But he misread the direction the shooter was coming from and opened the wrong door.
Another bullet hit his hand, one passed through a makeshift bullet-proof vest to hit the base of his neck and another bullet was fired through his skull. In all, 19 bullets were fired by the gunman who took his own life moments later.
“It’s over. I’m at peace. It’s over, I’m finally at peace,” Sergeant Hogan recalled thinking at the time. But his desire to live and get married in 41 days was still with him, he said.
“I think I’m hearing the humming of angels,” Sergeant Hogan said. “Then I realize, oh my God, I’m not going to heaven. I’m in an MRI machine.”
The bullet to his skull miraculously penetrated the center of his brain, causing no permanent damage though he suffered excruciating migraines for months.
Ultimately, he returned to the Irvington police force and retired in 2005. He currently works as an agent for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office while giving his lecture to law enforcement groups around the country.
“No doubt you survived so you could save lives every day,” Sheriff Gannon told Sergeant Hogan, after presenting him with a plaque of appreciation for his “years of outstanding service to the law enforcement community and for your unwavering dedication to duty.”