PUEBLO, Colo. — The effects of 26 officer-involved shootings over the last few years in Pueblo are far-reaching.
And though the circumstances of the shootings are eventually publicized, the impacts felt by the officers and their families is often kept very private.
The Pueblo Police department uses the National Crisis Debriefing Program to reach out and check in with its employees. Every officer who is present during a shooting sits in on debriefing sessions.
Program leaders say the sessions can help prevent PTSD, domestic violence, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Pastor Doug Cox is one of the chaplains for Pueblo PD. He leads the debriefs after situations involving the use of deadly force. He says it’s not unusual to see an officer struggle with their emotions and describe themselves as feeling “numb”.
Still, Pastor Cox says it’s rare for officers to seek help.
“We have to be kind of tough and sometimes we are too tough for our own good,” said Sergeant Frank Ortega.
“They are so strong at first then the tear slides out,” said Pastor Cox. “They are skeptical and they’ve earned the right to be skeptical when you come in and say ‘I’d like to help.’ It requires that you be willing to commit long enough to earn their trust.”
Sgt. Ortega described his experience when a carefully calculated operation to capture two robbery suspects took a turn. Another officer fired a deadly shot.
“I didn’t shoot the suspect, I didn’t kill the suspect, but you still feel those emotions because you are a team,” Ortega said. “You want to help your team, if you are not there when they are facing physical danger, you don’t have their back.”
Cox said during a debrief, officers often think about their own family.
“To realize just how close he came to never having the chance to go back,” explained Cox.
Though the incident lasts just seconds, the repercussions could last years.
“That moment, when [he] pulls that trigger changes his life forever,” said Cox. “They lost something, a sense of innocence, a sense of safety.”
In some cases, officers are unable to come back to work.
“Not always, but sometimes, the dream is shattered,” said Pastor Cox.