Police officer raised by firefighters is Monroe’s 2020-21 Officer of the Year

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K-9 Officer John McAulay and his loyal partner, Murphy, established themselves as one of the most dependable teams in the region in the location of missing individuals and suspects.

MONROE, CT — Police Officer John McAulay, 37, is well known around town, from his interactions with residents while out on patrol to the police K-9 demonstrations he does for children and senior citizens with his partner, a German shepherd named Murphy.

“As a K-9 officer, Officer McAulay and his partner, K-9 Murphy, have established themselves as one of the most dependable teams in the region in the location of missing individuals and suspects,” Chief Keith White said, adding the K-9 demonstrations provide valuable community outreach for his department.

Police Chief Keith White, right, presents the Officer of the Year Award to John McAulay at a ceremony in the Jockey Hollow auditorium in May.

McAulay, who is also respected for his role as an entry leader of the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team and an instructor for firearms, and other aspects of policing, received the 2020-21 Jacob J. Tufano Officer of the Year Award.

The honor, awarded at the MPD’s Awards Ceremony at Jockey Hollow School on May 23, was one year late because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a firearms instructor, White said McAulay is often called upon to assist with the training of new instructors for the Police Officer Standards and Training Council and the Fairfield County Training Officers Association.

“Officer McAulay has committed himself to the betterment of the officers he serves with both Monroe and throughout the state,” White said.

Raised by firefighters

John McAulay grew up in Greenwich, before his family moved to Southbury when he was 10. He comes from a family of firefighters. His father, J.D., and mother, Sue, were volunteer firefighters in Greenwich and his father still serves in Southbury. Both of his grandfathers were firefighters and his younger brother, Scott, is a career firefighter, serving as a lieutenant in Bridgeport.

But McAulay said he never had an interest himself.

“I always wanted to be a police officer, since I was a little kid,” he said. “One of my dad’s best friends was a Greenwich police officer. I used to sit in his car and play with all the stuff in it.”

His sister, Christine, the only one not to become a firefighter or police officer, was a highly competitive collegiate gymnast, who went on to be an accountant for an entertainment company, according to McAulay.

After graduating from Pomperaug High School in 2002, McAulay joined the Army. “Nine-eleven happened my senior year,” he said. “I had been considering it, but that solidified it.”

McAulay served for 14 years, between active and reserve duty, including overseas in Mosul, Iraq, in 2006 and 2007. There he trained and mentored Iraqi police officers, while also going out on patrol with them.

“I thought the Army would better prepare me to be a police officer,” he said.

At home, McAulay served on the narcotics task force for the National Guard when he was hired by the Monroe Police Department in late 2011, early 2012 — and his father later joined the MPD as a dispatcher.

While at the police academy, McAulay said his military experience paid off, because he had already been a trainer for several of the courses he took, such as use of pepper spray, firearms, DUI enforcement and search and seizure.

A K-9 officer

Riggs grabs K-9 Officer John McAulay’s leg, while trying to take him to the ground during a demonstration at the Monroe Senior Center.

In his early days as a Monroe police officer McAulay’s schedule aligned with Jeffrey Loomis, a K-9 officer at the time, who often helped him with his dog Gunner.

McAulay later approached Loomis and K-9 Officer Dennis Bradshaw to express his interest in becoming a K-9 handler.

“I wanted to learn how to do it,” he said. “I went to their training sessions. When Dennis Bradshaw retired, I had the experience, the confidence of the trainer, and built my resume for it.”

McAulay got his dog, Murphy, in October of 2014.

“I have zero regrets,” he said. “It’s the most rewarding and frustrating job at the same time.”

The dog cookies caper

Of doing K-9 demonstrations for the public, McAulay said, “I enjoy that aspect of the job, helping people understand how things actually happen,” adding that the news media is not always accurate. “I like to educate people.”

McAulay recalled a funny story of a misunderstanding by a drug dealer who stole Red Bull and dog cookies from the Henny Penny on Route 34, thinking the cookies would throw the canine off the scent of the drugs in his car in the event of a traffic stop.

The driver was pulled over and Murphy ignored the treats, going right for the drugs, according to McAulay.

“It’s funny because if he didn’t steal the dog cookies, we never would have stopped the car,” McAulay said with a grin.

Saving a life

The thing McAulay said he likes most about being a police officer is how every day starts as a clean slate.

“Every day you have no idea what’s going on. It could be a slow day, a medical call helping an old lady off the floor or chasing a car with homicide suspects in it,” he said.

McAulay  received a lifesaving medal for an incident on June 8, 2021 when a UPS driver’s legs were severed in an accident involving a forklift.

“He was going to bleed to death if I hadn’t showed up,” McAulay said. “I was able to get a tourniquet on him and get high flow oxygen to re-oxygenate his blood. It was rewarding, because you saved a guy’s life.”

McAulay said trauma care was hammered into him in the military.

Removing a squatter

Another incident that stands out to McAulay was the case of a squatter. A woman came into the police station to file a complaint after buying a house and finding a man staying there.

“Someone on the day shift told her to go to court and have him evicted,” McAulay said. “I came in at midnight and saw that.”

McAulay said police knew there were active felony warrants for the arrest of the son of the previous owner, adding the squatter matched his physical description.

“Greg Smith was a sergeant at the time. He said, ‘if you want to sit and watch the house and see if he’s in there, you can.’ I saw him there that night,” McAulay said. “We came up with a plan to get him out.”

Police had permission from the owner to enter the house and officers, detectives and Officer Loomis and his dog showed up the following morning.

“We found the guy hiding in the upstairs closet,” McAulay said of the suspect, who turned out to be the son. “He fought me, Loomis and Smith. We took him into custody and learned he had a drug factory in the house and extraditable felony warrants in at least two states.”

“We charged him with 13 different felonies,” McAulay said. “It was good teamwork, taking the initiative, and my sergeant letting me pursue it.”

Teaching on target

K-9 Officer John McAulay talks to Monroe Summer Day Camp children during Heroes Week last summer.

When the Monroe Police Department has new recruits, McAulay goes to the academy for their firearms training.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he said. “You have to make sure they’re good at aiming in the dark and under stress.”

Recruits participating in all four qualification relays, who fire all 240 shots without a miss, receive a plaque at graduation and replace their blue hat with a gold one. If you have only one miss, you still get the plaque, according to McAulay.

He remembers a time when he trained three recruits, one, Jessica Legen, had military experience and the other two had no shooting background. Two-of-three earned a plaque (Dominick Ebert and Legen, who also earned the gold hat for her perfect score). The third, Officer Nick Puglisi, only had two misses — missing a plaque by just one shot.

“I was thrilled,” McAulay said. “That was a perfect week for me, because they were good students. They listened.”

‘It could have been anyone’

Murphy, a police dog, always keeps an eye on his partner, K-9 Officer John McAulay.

Though McAulay won last year’s Officer of the Year Award, be said it could have been anyone.

“The department administration picks that,” he said. “It’s nice to see they have faith in me and my ability to do my job, but that could go to anybody.”

He went on to praise Det. Michael Chaves for the amount of computer forensics work he does while helping federal agencies, Officer Legen for her contributions to the Auto Theft Task Force, Officer Christopher Silkman for assisting other agencies on serious crash investigations and Det. Nicole Buckley, whose work with abuse victims seldom earns recognition because it often involves juveniles.

“Everyone here works hard. There were a lot of great options,” McAulay said. “I really like the people I work with here.”

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