PORTLAND — Joseph K. Loughlin, a 30-year veteran of police duty, this week told the stark reality of what a cop faces following a fatal shooting.

Joseph K. Loughlin retired from the Portland Police Department in 2010 after 30 years in law enforcement. Loughlin says the public needs to be more educated about officer-involved shootings. Contributed photo

“The officer goes through pretty much hell,” said Loughlin of South Portland, a retired Portland Police Department assistant chief and co-author of the book “Shots Fired” about “the misunderstandings, misconceptions and myths about police shootings.”

“He or she will never be the same again.”

The impact doesn’t go away.

“It never goes away,” Loughlin said. “They can’t sleep, they can’t eat.”

The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating a fatal shooting by Gorham Police Officer Dean Hannon on May 31. Kyle Needham, 32 of Standish, who had warrants out for his arrest, was shot when it appeared he was about to run over an officer outside Burger King in Gorham, officials have said.

“I will not be making a statement until the attorney general’s investigation is over,” Gorham Police Chief Daniel Jones said Wednesday.

Loughlin, a former homicide detective, commented about officer-involved shootings in general.

Loughlin said when he arrived at a police shooting scene it would take a couple hours to gather basic information, but, “within minutes, a (media) broadcast goes out.”

Loughlin said the public rushes to judgments with little information about a use of deadly force and needs more education about understanding the issue.

“Police have been demonized,” he said, with a comparison of veterans vilified during the Vietnam War years. “That’s what is happening here.”

In an interview, he provided insight about the “human beings behind the badge” in officer-involved shooting cases.

Following a shooting, an officer will be immediately removed from the scene, Loughlin said. A supervisor will drive the officer to the police station and isolate the officer, who can’t speak with anyone, until investigators start a review, Loughlin said.

The officer’s uniform will be removed for testing as will his or her gun to be examined forensically and ballistically.

The chief of police places the officer on administrative leave, perhaps for months, or reassigns the officer to desk duty. Officers, who often rely on overtime work, may be financially impacted because extra hours are not allowed.

The state Attorney General’s Office conducts an investigation along with local and state police. Several investigations are conducted simultaneously and an officer is subjected to multiple interviews.

Reconstruction of a shooting is complex and multiple officers at a scene have separate perspectives. He compared a reconstruction to putting a puzzle together.

“It’s always treated as a criminal case,” Loughlin said.

The officer is targeted by postings on social media and sometimes receives hate mail from families. “We tell officers don’t look at news, social media,” Loughlin said.

Police shootings are rare, he said, citing 34,000 arrests daily in the nation and millions of contacts.

Loughlin said police are not trained to kill. “They are trained to stop,” he said.

The average shooting happens in three seconds. “You never know who you are pulling over,” he said.

A shooting in what cops describe as “a moment in time” is a reaction based on their training, he said. Loughlin added 96 percent of officers never fire a gun in their careers.

Loughlin, once an interim Portland chief, has interviewed officers from across the country who used deadly force. Their comments included, “I can’t believe this happened,” “I wish this never happened,” or “What just happened?”

“They are traumatized by it every single time,” he said, adding they will never drive by the scene again.

While the Portland Department has a peer support system for its officers, only 5 percent of departments across the country have good support in place to help officers deal with trauma, he said.

Some officers Loughlin interviewed couldn’t talk about shootings decades later and some broke down in front of him. “They have to live with shooting a human,” Loughlin said. “The officers were ruined for life.”

There is always the threat of a civil law suit irregardless of findings by an attorney general’s investigation.

The Portland Press Herald reported June 1 that since 1990 the Maine Attorney General’s Office has investigated more than 150 police involved shootings and found all to be justified.

Loughlin, now a security company consultant and who trains police, objects to the terminology, saying perhaps there needs to be a language change to “a legal use of deadly force.”

A graduate of the FBI National Academy Command, Loughlin wrote “Shots Fired,” published in 2017, with Kate Clark Flora, a crime writer. They previously wrote “Finding Amy,” the story of Amy St. Laurent who was murdered in 2001 and whose body was discovered in Scarborough.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or [email protected]

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