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'A lot of trauma': Retired policeman explains psychological toll after shootout

Chris Bertram is a retired precinct chief with the Unified Police Department. He says when police officers are injured or killed, it sends a chill through many members of law enforcement because they share that vulnerability. (Winston Armani, KSL-TV)

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SANDY — The officer-involved shooting in Taylorsville was the third of its kind on the Wasatch Front this week and the second in which police officers were shot. A former deputy police chief talked about the kind of psychological impact that can have on officers.

"It brings back a lot of emotions," said Chris Bertram, who retired as a precinct chief with the Unified Police Department six years ago. Today, he's a private investigator and teaches criminal justice.

"Over the last 31 years, you feel up and down about those things. It's a scary feeling, and now that I'm retired, it's still bothersome," he said.

When police officers are shot and injured, or even killed, it is the kind of news that sends a chill through many members of law enforcement because they share that vulnerability. A police shooting can also have troubling psychological impacts on officers who were on scene, and those who were not.

"I understand that every day that I went out for 25 years, things like this could happen," Bertram said. "When you hear something like that, whether it's along the Wasatch Front, or down in southern Utah, every police officer looks at what they've been doing in the last little bit and there by, the grace of God, go us. It could've been them."

In 2016, he lost a close friend and colleague when officer Doug Barney was shot and killed in the line of duty. Barney, 44, died after being shot once in the head while pursuing a man who police say had walked away from a nearby crash scene.

"We had gone through a lot of our career together. I was his first sergeant. We developed a friendship that went beyond just the office," Bertram said.

Barney is honored at the Utah Peace Officers Memorial at the police training center in Sandy where Bertram is an assistant professor in criminal justice.

"There is a psychological toll that goes on every officer out there, whether they're firsthand experiencing what happened last night, or secondhand — they're coming to roll call tonight."

Early in his career, he says police didn't talk about it.

"There's a lot of trauma that goes on. And it's not just the trauma of those officers that were there last night, it's a trauma for those friends that are in the agency, or those that were on duty."

Now, counseling is available and encouraged for anyone impacted.

"A lot of the retired officers talk about what the stressors are. The fact that we go through a career and we cannot unsee what we've seen."

Despite training, he says there are so many variables police cannot control.

There are a lot of guns out on the streets, and Bertram said police rarely know when a person is willing to take a shot at them.

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