Conor McDonald, left, with his father Steven. Conor will be...

Conor McDonald, left, with his father Steven. Conor will be joining the NYPD academy following in his father's footsteps. Mr. McDonald was paralyzed in a shooting in 1986 while working as an NYPD detective. (June 29, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

When Conor McDonald is sworn in to the New York City police academy next week, he will become the fourth generation of McDonald men to join the NYPD's ranks.

Yet his choice to carry on the family tradition means contending with the shadow cast by his father Steven being paralyzed by a bullet as a young cop before Conor was even born.

"I understand there is that big elephant in the room . . . if the same thing happens to me like my father," Conor, 23, said Tuesday, with Steven by his side at their home in Malverne.

Conor will be sworn in at a private ceremony July 7.

"Something inside me was calling me to do this, because there's a lot of bad guys out there . . . that take advantage of vulnerable people," he said. "I think there's a purpose for everyone. I think my purpose is to protect the people of New York City who have done so much for my family."

Despite their fear, Steven and his wife, Patricia Ann, said they supported their only son's decision with pride because they want him, above all, to fulfill his dreams.

"I admire him and I'm proud of him for his decision. It was completely his decision," said Patricia Ann, the mayor of Malverne. "Obviously, I'm concerned for his safety. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel that way."

Though Conor took the test to enter the police academy some five years ago, it was only in the past year that he determined police work was in his destiny.

After graduating from Boston College last year, Conor spent 10 months as a volunteer case manager in a youth shelter in Denver.

In his time working with teenage victims of sexual abuse, felons and gang members, Conor said, he witnessed how some who lacked the stable home and community that he enjoyed wound up homeless and vulnerable, while others preyed on the weak. And he wanted to do something about it.

In 1986, while Patricia Ann was pregnant with Conor, Steven was shot in the neck by 15-year-old Shavod Jones while on duty in Central Park. A year after he was paralyzed from the neck down, he forgave Jones, who died in 1995 within a week of his release from prison.

Steven McDonald continues to serve on the force, sharing his story with fellow cops and schoolchildren.

"He [Steven McDonald] helps a lot of [police officers] understand their jobs and how to take care of themselves," said Steven's partner, Andy Cserenyi. "To see the heritage, from great-grandfather to grandfather to Steven, and now Conor, no words can be said."

While Conor was moved by his father's compassion toward his attacker, Steven said he sees in Conor an empathy that will help him on the job. "He has a sympathetic heart towards the difficulties of life," said Steven, 53. "He can better understand the Shavod Jones of the world."

In a statement, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said: "The police department has a long history of sons and daughters following in their parents' footsteps, despite the job's inherent sacrifices, which in this instance, were so great."

Despite the family's unique story, Conor insists he's no different from the hundreds of other recruits to the force.

"I'm not that special. There's 1,200 other guys and gals in the academy," said Conor, a graduate of Chaminade High School in Mineola. "I know everyone says I'm Steven McDonald's son, but I'm my own individual person . . . I have my dues to pay and not one bit do I feel that I am owed anything. I feel I owe a lot."

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