SOUTH JORDAN — With six officer-involved shootings in less than two weeks, how do departments handle these types of incidents when it comes to the mental well-being of the officers?
Whether it be in movies or just in general, there's a perception that officers don't mind shooting people. But that couldn't be further from the truth: Shooting and killing someone is the last thing they want to do.
Every time there's a shooting where a police officer pulls the trigger, South Jordan Police Lt. Matt Pennington feels like he has to defend his profession.
“We’re out there doing our jobs, and we're trying to keep people safe,” Pennington said. "I can say nobody signs up for this job to go take somebody's life."
Pennington 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. It affects their home life and it affects their family life," he said.
Pennington said he knew first hard because he's still living with it, eight years after he was the officer who fired his firearm
“For me, 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 legally 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 it took me about 2 ½ years to get to the point where I can talk about an incident and not have it affect me as if I was still going through it,” he said.
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.”
That's why getting professional help is so important.
"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, a group that works mainly with police officers and first responders in 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 OK, or if you're dealing with something where you still get an emotional response, go talk to somebody,” Pennington said. “If you’re somebody out there that is still dealing with something or you’re having trouble processing, talk to somebody.”