05/01/09 09-039

05/01/09 09-039

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May 1, 2009


Disabled SF Police Sergeant And Nationally Recognized Expert Retires

The San Francisco Police Department's nationally acclaimed Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator, Sergeant Michael J. Sullivan, a San Francisco native, will be retiring May 1, 2009 after 32 years of service.

Sergeant Sullivan, 54, himself permanently disabled from injuries sustained in the line of duty when he was only 26 years old, is a nationally recognized expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to law enforcement.

Sullivan's career as a street officer came to an abrupt end in the wee hours of January 18, 1982 when his patrol car was struck by a fleeing suspect during a nighttime chase in the Mission District. The suspect's car landed on top of Sullivan's patrol car and pinned Sullivan inside. Sullivan suffered serious injuries including to his leg and heart, required several surgeries, and could not return to duty for a year-and-a-half.


When he did return to work, it was not to the street, much to Sullivan's disappointment. A big man at 6'2 , his injuries made it painful to walk–he eventually required a cane and more surgeries–and so was assigned permanent light duty status.

Challenging assignments were difficult to find on light duty status–Sullivan often had to remind people that he still had full use of his brain–but he was not deterred. When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by Congress in 1992, Sullivan eagerly accepted the responsibilities of learning how the ADA related to law enforcement and then implementing it within the San Francisco Police Department.

Sullivan was a quick study and immediately became recognized within City government for his ADA expertise. In 1995, he was presented with the City's ADA Coordinator of the Year Award by then-Mayor Frank Jordan and received it again in 1997.

Sullivan's reputation grew, and soon law enforcement agencies and disabilities groups from across the country were seeking his expertise. Eventually, the Clinton Administration recruited Sullivan to serve on the Executive Committee of the President's Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities.

Meanwhile, the SFPD expanded Sullivan's duties to include teaching police recruits as well as veteran officers about the ADA. In conjunction with the San Francisco Mental Health Board's Director, Helynna Brooke, he developed curriculum for the SFPD's award winning quarterly class, the Police Crisis Intervention Training, which is an intense 40 hour class attended by 30 veteran police officers at a time who learn how to increase their effectiveness when interacting with people with mental illness in the community. Since May 2001, more than 850 officers have received this training.

Sullivan's work in this field has been honored by the Mayor's Office, the Board of Supervisors, the California Legislature, and the U.S. Congress.

In 2005, Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Independent Living Resource Center honored Sullivan at a reception at City Hall by presenting him with the Community Leadership Award for building a more accessible San Francisco. Sullivan received the award on crutches. He was recovering from his tenth surgery resulting from his original injuries in 1982.


Perhaps Sullivan's most meaningful work has been in his day-to-day service to his fellow police officers and to the citizens of San Francisco. He is a fierce advocate for proper accommodations for police officers who are recovering from injuries or illness, and he is just as fiercely an advocate for the various disabled communities in San Francisco. Sullivan assures that all police services are accessible to the disabled whether it be at local police stations, the Hall of Justice, or in telecommunications.

Sullivan also assures that any disabled person arrested is properly accommodated. He has arranged for interpreters for the deaf to be on call day and night, for availability of special vans to transfer those who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices, and is on call, 24-7, as a resource to all SFPD officers.

Now, Sullivan's own mobility is failing dramatically. He has endured numerous surgeries and painful recoveries over the years, and although he no longer needs a cane, he continues to lose motion in his injured leg and finds it harder to get around.

And so, Sullivan has decided the time has come to retire. The City of San Francisco is losing a giant of a man who almost lost his life and gave up his good health and personal mobility protecting its citizens on that fateful January night 27 years ago.

Because of Sullivan's dedicated work, the San Francisco Police Department is admired by other law enforcement agencies across the nation for its skill and expertise working with the disabled. His example has also influenced his children to choose careers assisting the disabled. His son, Patrick, is a first-year law student who is considering specializing in disability law, and his daughter, Jennifer, a college junior, is majoring in speech pathology with plans for a career as a speech therapist.

Sullivan's legacy is huge, and his professional shoes will be challenging to fill.

For more information, please contact:

Public Affairs


850 Bryant Street, Room 549, San Francisco, CA. 94103
Tel (415) 553-1651 / Fax (415) 553-9229
[email protected]