Retired Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks may be a name and a face you recognize, but his emotions are something many aren’t familiar with.
"It's a traumatic experience that officers will live with for the rest of his or her life. They will. They will remember that for the rest of their lives”, Sparks said, “And I don't care who you are, at some time, you're going to question what you did. And no matter whether the county, the city, or the state has ruled the officer's shooting was legal and justified only you can come to peace with that."
After 45 years, the image is still clear for Sparks. He shot and killed a burglary suspect.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 7 to 19 percent of police officers have PTSD symptoms compared to that of the public, 3.5 percent.
"What guy says I'm just doing my job and it is just doing your job, but when you lay your head on your pillow at nighttime it's a whole different ball game, just is" said Sparks.
A second study found police officers experience, on average, more than three traumatic incidents during a six-month period, which can lead to an increased risk of PTSD.
"I have packages inside me, in my brain. Vietnam is in a nice package, all sewn up. The Sherriff's Department, the bad stuff from the Sheriff's Department, is in a package all sewn up”, said Sparks, “Anybody in law enforcement has got a lot of stuff that went on, that you just don't dwell on, you can't, because it'll mess you up.”
And for the former sheriff, talking about some of the traumatic experiences he’s been through brought him some unexpected comfort.
"I'm a guy, I can't keep stuff in me. I can't do it. I gotta put it out”, said Sparks, “That really helped me as sheriff and I think it helped me overcome that situation because guys would talk about it and I'd say hey I hope I never have to do that again."
The Kern County chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, advises we offer to listen and help those going through PTSD in any way we can.
If you or anyone you know is going through PTSD or needs help in any way, you are urged to call the suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255.
Additional resources are offered at the Official Kern County Health and Recovery website, kernmentalhealth.org.