Potential life-and-death encounters, divorce and suicide are among the many issues facing cops in America, a speaker said Thursday morning on the University of Central Oklahoma campus.
In 1986, Bobby Smith was working as a Louisiana state trooper when he was shot in the face and blinded by a drug offender. After the incident, Smith realized a need to help law enforcement officers cope with post-trauma issues.
Thursday morning, Smith shared experiences from his 25-year law enforcement career as he spoke about dealing with the aftermath of trauma. His assignments included patrol, investigations, narcotics, personnel and training. First responders in the UCO audience included Edmond Fire Department personnel and members of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
DeWade Langley, director of UCO’s School of Criminal Justice, introduced Smith. Langley said after Smith lost his sight, he developed a new vision, to help first responders deal with traumatic events. In 2001, Smith founded the Foundation for Officers Recovering from Traumatic Events.
Langley said if you go to Smith’s website (www.visionsofcourage.com) you will find a wide range of accolades and awards. His most significant accomplishments are the countless lives he has helped guide through dark times, Langley said.
On March 14, 1986, Smith was a trooper with the Louisiana State Police when he was critically wounded by a fleeing driving while impaired suspect in Franklin Parish. He sustained two shotgun blasts at point-blank range and was lying face down on the highway, soaked in blood, wondering if he was going to die.
The shotgun blasts injured his face and hands and led to his blindness. The incident robbed him of his confidence, independence and a career that was not just a job but a calling.
Smith, speaking with his thick Louisiana accent, holding a typical cane for the blind, walked in front of a table as he engaged the audience with a mix of humor and stories about law enforcement and life. He said we all have stories about being emotionally wounded, we all have to walk through the valleys of life and we all have to deal with grief and loss.
After he was shot, Smith was afraid of the dark. He experienced sleepless nights, insomnia, suffered from paranoia, crying episodes, fear of being left alone, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.
He spoke about how when cops awake, their subconscious minds suit up for battle. Their blood pressure rises, the heart rate increases preparing them to protect and serve. He spoke about a crash scene and holding a little girl in his arms, exhorting her to live, watching her take her last breath. Afterwards, he sat there and cried.
“Is being a cop sometimes difficult?” he asked rhetorically. “You better believe it is.”
He said sometimes police officers deal with traumatic events based off two misconceptions: Big boys don’t cry and asking for help is a sign of weakness. In comparison to other careers, police officers lead in two categories: suicide and divorce, Smith said.
He spoke about the importance of psychological counseling, having relationships with wives, children and parents, about recognizing your reality, accepting your loss. He spoke about stages of grief and loss — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. He also talked about overcoming loss and hope.
After being shot, Smith earned a doctorate in counseling psychology working hard, studying six hours a day. Anyone can accomplish anything if they are willing to work hard, he said.
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