Police Psychology | Officer Down

Posted: July 5, 2016 in Rank and Leadership
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Officer Down

by Adam Pasciak PhD, LP, Clarkston, Michigan


Over the years a few people have asked me what is was like to get shot. To get it out of the way here, it hurt a lot—at first—but then when you start going into shock that helps. Having said that, I don’t recommend it.

As to how it was I got into the situation I ended up XATELCALin, it was a “routine stop”. My partner and I had pulled over a truck for a minor traffic offense and during the encounter noticed several gun stickers on the truck (not especially unusual in our city) and some odd behavior from the driver. Something about the man led to me wanting to have him exit the truck. As he did so I attempted to pat him down—which was when it went from “routine” to all hell breaking loose.

I remember him pulling away and starting to run. I ran after him and closed the distance between us. This was about when my partner yelled out “Gun!” which I apparently heard based on the events that unfolded next. I say apparently because I have no recall of the actual shooting, but fairly intense ones of the moments afterwards.

I drew my firearm from my holster and had it pointed at the suspect around the time that he fired twice at me at close range. The .40 caliber bullets struck me in the left thigh, cutting an artery, and the right hand, destroying the metacarpal bone and knuckle in my middle finger. At some point I managed to fire off a round at the driver before crumpling to the ground.

There was a burning sensation in my leg and I could almost feel the blood pouring out of me. A crescent shaped hole appeared over my knuckle and a small bead of blood pooled in it. The pain in my hand was excruciating. Soon, however, I was unaware of the pain—this was where my body went into shock and started shutting down. My mind still felt very aware as I blurted “Officer down!” into my radio. I was aware that my partner and the bad guy were now exchanging shots at each other somewhere nearby. My body tensed as I waited to be struck by more bullets.

After what seemed like an eternity, the shooting stopped. The bad guy had been struck by a round and was down on the ground. He eventually died from his injury. My partner was unharmed and trying to get help to me. Moments later, I was loaded into a police car and raced to a local hospital where heroic efforts saved my life and limbs.

If it had been a TV show, I would have been bandaged up and drinking beer at the bar later that night with the guys celebrating the good guys winning. But, due to the location of the injuries I would spend the next month in the hospital having numerous surgeries, being largely incapacitated and facing an uncertain future.

For the first couple of weeks I felt a sense of reassurance as I would see one of my fellow officers standing watch in my hospital room. I later learned this was largely due to concerns of retaliation from militia groups affiliated with the man who had shot me. As the weeks dragged on I began to see less of my co-workers, until one day I noticed that no one was coming around other than my family and friends. I rationalized that this was mostly to do with the hospital being a far distance from my department, but when the trend continued once I got home, despite me living in the city a couple miles from the station, I got my first inklings that it was going to be very different than things on TV.

When no one called or came around other than for official business, I began to feel lonely and resentful. Looking back, I think this was more in line with depression, and my way of coping with it was to withdraw. Clearly not the best coping response, but at the time it was all I felt I could do. I have since learned my experience was not uncommon and I guess it helps to know that it was not necessarily a personal thing. Ideally, having positive contact and a plan with administration would likely have prevented many of those struggles and maybe they were willing to do it but it did not occur to me to ask.

One of my first thoughts when I was in the hospital was wondering what it would take to get back to work or if I would be able to. I wasn’t sure I would be able to use my right hand, which had been my dominant/gun hand, after all the reconstructive surgeries. My walking was off as well following the removal of one of the metatarsal bones in my foot to help reconstruct the bones in my hand. I began to prepare for the worst in case I couldn’t go back and returned to school to get a degree in psychology. That was Plan B. Plan A was to return to full duty and get back on the road. It would take 18 months before I was cleared to go back, but eventually it happened.

It took some time and thinking outside the box, but I was eventually able to get back in a patrol car. My first order of business was to go to the intersection where the shooting happened and pull over the first car I saw just to get any jitters out of the way. I probably should have told someone of my plan ahead of time but didn’t really feel the desire to explain myself to anyone. The stop happened without incident and from then on it was business as normal, like nothing ever happened.

From time to time people would ask how my hand was, but no one ever asked me what the shooting was like. What I didn’t understand at the time was they had all gotten closure 18 months ago, listening to my partner describe what happened. For me, things had been on pause the whole time so everything was pretty raw when I returned and I was easily upset by things.  I was often left feeling very frustrated that no one seemed to be interested in what was going on with me.

Six years after my return I learned I needed another surgery to correct pain in my foot where the bone had been removed. Over the next year, there were more surgeries. I was disappointed but not surprised when there was minimal contact from people at the department again. Some of the hurt and anger from the first time was rekindled and again led to me withdrawing further.

Finally, after another year, talks about offering me a medical retirement started up. I agreed to it, despite sitting at the top of the promotion list to be lieutenant—just needing to get back to get sworn in at the new rank. Within a few days I received some paperwork in the mail to sign. I signed it and sent it back in, expecting to hear from someone for the final instructions, but that was it. After a long career marked by numerous commendations and conscientious work, I was done. My reaction was that I must not have been very important or mattered much for things to happen like that. To say it hurt would be an understatement. It was a long time before I could let those negative feelings go.

My perception at the time was that I was viewed as an inconvenience despite my efforts to distinguish myself and prove I belonged back on the job. In my rational mind, I realize many of the things I thought at that time were not true. It was largely my fault for not asking for the things I needed or letting anyone know how badly I was struggling, but maybe the department should have been more active in supporting me. I still struggle with the separation part but recognize that it was a fair way to get me out of there.

Getting my doctorate degree in psychology helped soothe my anger a bit. I didn’t want to work with officers at first but my interest in the law enforcement field was rekindled as a mentor reminded me of how much I had put into it and how much I had to offer based on my experiences and research. My goal now is to help other officers struggling to deal with traumatic experiences—it is frustrating to see that even after all the years that have passed since my shooting there are still too many departments that do not have a shooting policy in place or have after care for officers who have been involved in traumatic situations.

Hopefully someday soon that changes.


Site Editor:  Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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  1. You may have felt invisible or dismissed by your brethren yet this was simply
    a defense mechanism for others to avoid facing their own vulnerability.
    You know the job you did protecting the rest of us, and it is a credit to
    you to re-invent yourself versus slipping into a permanent state of resentment.

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