POSTED: Thursday, October 31, 2013 --- 9:55 p.m.
Reporter: Leigh Mills
WELL TRAINING FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT - PAUL SMITH
See links above for the story video and web-exclusive content including:
-1992 neighbor 911 call
-1992 MPD radio traffic during shooting
-1994 MPD radio traffic during shooting
Only on NBC 15: a closer look at officer involved shootings. In Madison over the past decade, officers have been involved in fatal shootings on average once every two years. But this past year there were three shootings in just nine months.
We report on each incident. But this is the untold story: an up close look at police shootings and the toll they take on the officers and the entire department.
Paul Smith was a deputy with the LA County Sheriff's Department and then a Madison Police officer. In the 1990's, he pulled the trigger in two officer involved shootings in Madison, killing two suspects.
Smith was cleared in both incidents. But fatal shootings can devastate an officer's career. Smith developed symptoms of PTSD. He isolated himself and turned to alcohol to cope.
"After that second shooting, I questioned my abilities," explains Paul, "I came to believe it was my fault, and that if I had been a better officer, that it wouldn't have happened that way."
Two years after the second shooting, Smith retired from law enforcement. But he ended up feeling as if he lost the one thing that gave meaning to his life.
"I found myself with my service weapon in my mouth and was going to leave this world."
But a phone call saved his life, and so did a therapist. In 2007, Smith went to grad school. Now he's a counselor at a VA health care center, and he does training around the state for law enforcement.
His lowest moment is now part of his message and what drives him in his counseling work.
"My main goal: I want them to walk out of here with at least some shred of new hope. Without those experiences, without everything, the good and the bad, I wouldn't be able to do this job."