CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The annual West Virginia Public Safety Expo being held at the Charleston Civic Center this week welcomed a guest speaker Wednesday who has triumphed over a debilitating injury to become an advocate for law enforcement dealing with trauma.
Bobby Smith worked as a Louisiana State Trooper for a decade when his world was turned upside down in 1986.
“I was involved in a shooting with a drug dealer out of New Orleans on a drug interdiction detail and was shot in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun blast and was totally blinded,” he told law enforcement, firefighters and emergency personnel during his keynote speech.
In that one instant everything changed. He said he went into a depression, his wife left him and one day he found himself on the brink.
“I was sitting on the edge of my bed one day with my revolver in my hand and I said, ‘I don’t think I can take anymore,’ trying to live up to my reputation as Superman and being a tough state trooper,” he explained. “I finally realized I can’t deal with this by myself anymore. I need some help.”
He reached out to his fellow troopers and sought professional counseling. Two years later he went back to school and got his masters and PH.D. in counseling/psychology. For the past 20 years he’s been working with law enforcement one-on-one and traveling around the world telling his story and getting out a message.
“When our cups get too full it’s okay to come forward and say ‘Guys, I need some help!” I need somebody to get me through a very difficult time,’ whether it’s in their personal lives or their professional careers,” said Smith.
The job of first responder is stressful. Smith said that comes as no surprise. However, some statistics are startling. Seventy-five percent of cops go through a divorce and there are more disturbing numbers.
“For every cop that’s killed in the line of duty in this country, two will commit suicide,” he said.
Whether it’s having to make a death notification to a family, holding a dead child in their arms or getting shot at, Smith said the job takes its toll. The first people to see the signs of stress are families and then co-workers. He stressed that’s why it’s so important for law enforcement to have strong support systems and loved ones who encourage them to get help.
To find out more about Smith’s story, he’s written a book called “Visions of Courage.”