On March 30, 1981, six shots were fired at President Ronald Reagan by would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr.
Chicago native Tim McCarthy was there. At the time, the 32-year-old Secret Service agent was assigned to Reagan’s detail, and he was called on to make what could have been the ultimate sacrifice: He put his body between the president and Hinckley and was hit with the third of six shots the gunman fired that day.
McCarthy says he recalls the incident clearly in what had been an otherwise routine day in Washington protecting the president on a visit to the Washington Hilton hotel.
“We went outside and shortly thereafter John Hinckley fired six shots in 1.4 seconds,” McCarthy said on “Chicago Tonight.” (Watch part two of our conversation here.)
He is modest about what he did that day, attributing his actions to save the president as simply the result of good training.
“I rarely think about it,” McCarthy said. “I guess what it comes down to for me is that on that particular day a crisis occurred and I was able to do what I was trained to do. One never knows in a crisis if you are going to be able to fulfill your mission and do what you are supposed to do in that moment. On that occasion I was.”
McCarthy says he’s grateful to have been able to thwart Hinckley’s attempted assassination.
“What he almost did was change the course of history,” McCarthy said. “The only way the president is supposed to be removed is through the ballot box or impeachment — not a moment of madness by a lone gunman. Some things went terribly wrong that day and a few things went right, and fortunately the president survived.”
After 22 years in the Secret Service, including four more years on Reagan’s security detail, McCarthy retired in 1993. But after less than a year working for a private security firm he was persuaded to apply for the position of Orland Park police chief.
“I thought I would only be in the position for three to six years — most chiefs don’t last much longer than that typically — and lo and behold it’s been 26 years,” McCarthy said.
During that time he has transformed the Orland Park Police Department from one that didn’t have much of a community policing footprint to one that does.
“I think overall, the greatest accomplishment I’ve had is instituting those programs across the board,” he said.
His department was also one of the first to equip officers with the drug Narcan that is used to prevent death in the event of an opioid overdose. But it was not without controversy: Some critics believed the policy was a tacit endorsement of drug use.
But McCarthy had no doubts about the policy.
“All of our officers are equipped with Narcan,” McCarthy said. “We did that five or six years ago. It was a little bit controversial because the same people who were overdosing and you were going to save were the same people who six months later you were going to be arresting them for breaking into cars. But they are still someone’s son or daughter and we felt it was the right thing to do and we did it.”
Amid calls to reform and even defund the police following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, McCarthy says he believes most officers want to do the right thing and those like Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged with murdering Floyd, are “outliers.”
“Most departments are typical of our own,” McCarthy said. “But it’s a dynamic profession and you are dealing with people who are emotionally disturbed, under the influence of alcohol and oftentimes drugs, in very tense events. And they tend to go bad. The things that happened in Minneapolis shouldn’t have happened, but what happened afterwards — the person was fired and the person was charged — that probably wouldn’t have happened 25 or 30 years ago. So there has been a lot of progress made and we tend to ignore that.”
After 48 years in law enforcement, McCarthy is retiring on Aug.1.