The North Dakota Peace Officers Association conference has largely been a place for the state's law enforcers to get together, network, look at new tools available from vendors, and even have some fun. On Thursday, though, the attendees were offered a chance to share the frustrations and difficulties they all face in their chosen field.
Bobby Smith was a Louisiana State Trooper for nine years before his career, and nearly his life, came to an end the night of March 14, 1986, when he was shot in the face with a shotgun by a convicted drug offender during a traffic stop.
He lost his eyesight permanently from the blast and has suffered further, including the loss of his daughter in a traffic accident. But, according to his website, "the losses in Bobby's life have been his catalyst, driving him to discover the true vision for his life."
He shared that vision with deputies, troopers, officers, and other law enforcers at a ballroom at the Sleep Inn Hotel and Suites at the Dakota Square Mall. Every seat was filled, forcing two officers tired of standing to temporarily move a couch located in the hallway into the room, but even that wasn't enough seating.
As the founder and director of the Foundation for Officers Recovering from Traumatic Events, Smith makes about 120 to 150 speaking engagements a year around the country and sometimes in other countries. The foundation also provides counseling for emergency and legal personnel after suffering a traumatic event.
During a part of the long speech, he referenced specific traumatic events that police may suffer, as well as people who they have to deal with who have suffered.
"How many in here have been to a scene where a cop was shot or killed in the line of duty? Say 'yes,'" Smith said in his heavy southern accent. "Fun, isn't it?"
"How many in here know a cop who committed suicide? Say 'yes," he said. "Fun, isn't it?"
The "Fun, isn't it," is, of course, sarcastic. It was used in a way to show that those officers who have experienced events like this that they aren't alone in their pain.
"Do we, as young cops, sometimes compromise our integrity, our character, and sometimes even our morals to be accepted by the police family. Does it happen?" he said. "Yes it does."
It wasn't all in question and answer format to show problems encountered in the job, although the method seemed effective to show that all of them have had to miss important personal events and suffer from the repercussions like divorce from "being married to the job," which is what he said you have to be "if you want to be a good cop."
There was also a bit of comedic insight to the changes in family and national values over the years, with references to "reality television" and false celebrity.
Really, though, he said that, in the end, it is the cops who have to deal with "real reality."