Once Shunned, Officers Now Being Encouraged To Get Help After Shooting
Oct 22, 2018, 8:34 PM | Updated: Oct 23, 2018, 11:28 am
SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – With an influx of officer-involved shootings across the Wasatch Front over the last two weeks, KSL wanted to know what police departments do for the mental wellbeing of an officer who has to pull the trigger.
Every time there’s a police officer involved in a shooting, Matt Pennington said he feels like he has to defend his profession.
“We’re out there doing our jobs, and we’re trying to keep people safe,” he said. “I can say nobody signs up for this job to go take somebody’s life.”
The lieutenant with the South Jordan Police Department said he knows how much it affects an officer who makes the split-second decision to discharge their firearm.
“We’re not robots. We don’t go back to work the next day. That’s something the officers will live with for the rest of their lives,” Pennington said. “It affects their home life and it affects their family life.”
Pennington said he knew first hand, because he’s still living with it, eight years after he was the officer who fired his firearm.
“It was Christmas day. It’s a day that I’ll never forget. I’ll live with it forever,” he said while choking up. “Sorry. It’s hard to think about a little bit. It’s something – as my kids get older they have questions about, and I have to relive it. All the time. Every single Christmas morning.”
Even though investigators determined Pennington was justified in the shooting, it took speaking to a psychologist to get better.
He said killing someone isn’t easy to recover from, even when it was determined to be justified.
“I can tell you that it takes a long time. From personal experience, I can tell you,” said Pennington. “It took me about 2 1/2 years to get to the point where I can talk about the incident and not have it affect me as if I was still going through it.”
Despite being trained to make those split-second decisions, Pennington said it still took a toll.
“We train officers very, very well on how to deal with the moment. Where we’re getting better at and what we used to struggle with, is preparing them for the aftermath,” he said.
That’s why getting professional help is so important, KSL was told.
“You can’t understand what effect it has on you until you’re involved in that situation,” said Dr. Brian Partridge, a psychologist in Riverton who runs The Partridge Group.
Partridge works mainly with police officers and first responders on dealing with traumatic situations.
He, too, has heard about the six police shootings in the past two weeks along the Wasatch Front and hopes the officers involved are encouraged to get help.
“These are people,” said Partridge. “These are humans that do a job as law enforcement, and they have lives outside of their work. When they go home, they’re dads, they’re wives, they’re husbands, they’re mothers. Yeah, they’re humans.”
Law enforcement has never been an easy job. However, it is getting easier to get help.
“We’re not too macho to go talk to somebody. If you’re not okay or if you’re dealing with something where you still get an emotional response, go talk to somebody,” said Pennington. “If you’re somebody out there that is still dealing with something or you’re having trouble processing, talk to somebody.”