By: Melissa Coplak
The Legislative Gazette
Copyright 2001 by The Legislative Gazette
Reprinted with permission
Albany based lawyer and long-time activist Terry O'Neill was named Honorary Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent of the Year for his dedication to the fight against drugs.
The vote, which ended December 31st, was conducted through the DEA Watch web site.
O'Neill's involvement in politics and law enforcement began with his graduation from Albany Law School in 1984, though his interest had been sparked much earlier. Law enforcement is in O'Neill's blood. His great-grandfather served in the Royal Irish Constabulary, six of his father's uncles were police officers in Connecticut, and his father was a Connecticut state trooper.
After graduating law school, he was immediately hired by state Assemblyman Edward Griffith. Yet his employment with Griffith was short lived. In 1986, O'Neill left the assemblyman's office to join the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services as a legal adviser for police executives. In 1990, O'Neill acted as State Director of Criminal Justice John J. Poklemba's representative during a violent uprising at St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation. His assistance helped lead to the creation of a Mohawk police force.
However, O'Neill's dedication to criminal justice and the fight gainst drugs has extended beyond his legal expertise. O'Neill composes musical pieces for the highland bagpipe, many of which are named after famous police officers. As a freelance writer, O'Neill has had several poems and stories published in law enforcement publications throughout the nation. In 1996, O'Neill published Constantine's Circus, a book of poetry and stories meant to teach children about issues such as drugs, alcohol and guns, as well as containing messages to respect police officers.
The publication of O'Neill's book was followed by the composition of his signature piece, "Thomas A. Constantine." The book and musical composition were inspired by Professor Thomas Constantine, a former New York State Police Superintendent and DEA chief who devoted himself to the reduction drug trafficking and use in both the state and the nation.
"I wanted to use someone like Professor Constantine as an individual kids can look up to and admire," O'Neill said.
Constantine also served as O'Neill's inspiration for the development of an organization of the same name. Founded in 1997, the organization utilizes unique methods to teach children not only about the physical dangers of using drugs, but also about violence and the justice system, and problems that often arise in relation to drug use. Programs often use artistic and media outlets such as stories, theater and the Internet as a basis to get children to talk freely about their own views on drug related issues. "The word circus can have two meanings- either it can be a highly organized form of entertainment, or it can be a comic mess. We are actually very highly organized," O'Neill said.
Constantine's Circus also enforces its anti-drug and anti-violence message by providing students with opportunities to meet with law enforcement officials. In 1998, the organization created an internship program for Albany High School students interested in criminal justice or public safety careers. In 1999, Constantine's Circus brought students from the high school to the annual convention of the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers' Association to present their own awards to members of law enforcement.
O'Neill and Constantine's Circus are working on a new project in which resources from the State University of New York would be used to aid police officers to reduce crime and drug trafficking. In a letter to Chancellor of SUNY, Robert L. King, O'Neill states that the program's aim is "to organize the intellectual and research resources of the State University system to create a center for collaboration where the best minds can be put to work on the growing threat of international organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism."
In addition to his efforts to create this new program and his work with Constantine's Circus, O'Neill is an adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College, where he works on course design and advising in addition to teaching a course on constitutional, legal and ethical issues. "He is an excellent resource- both for students and for our faculty," said Richard Pulice, mentor/coordinator for public affairs studies at the college. He also reunited with Griffith in 1997, this time as his attorney. Griffith's last official act as assemblyman was to announce O'Neill's appointment as Honorary Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent of the Year. "I am very pleased that he was nominated for this honor. He is a tremendous and sincere advocate for law enforcement," said Griffith.
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CONSTANTINE'S CIRCUS, INC.
PO Box 7223
Albany, NY 12224-0223