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Valley non-profit helps police officers dealing with trauma

Posted at 5:26 PM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 21:17:03-04

If you are dealing with thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, help is available. You can talk to someone via the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, and find resources at

A police officer's job is not easy and no two calls, days, or cases are the same. And, like other professions, it can be difficult to deal with the stress and trauma that results.

"Under the Shield" is a nonprofit dedicated to helping police officers deal with stress.

Susan Simmons founded the nonprofit foundation and currently serves as its president. She said she created the foundation because she saw a need to help officers deal with the on-the-job trauma they may experience and to prevent officer suicides.

"[An officer's] main purpose is really to help people, and so in that, they have a lot of internal conflict," said Simmons. "The first thing is to have them come in and learn how to talk to their families about this job. They’re so busy protecting their families they don’t want to empty the garbage on them and in doing that they’re actually isolating themselves."

Retired police officer Stefani Gombar retired from the job in March 2020 after 31 years of police service. She said even now, she can recall specific traumatic events she experienced early on in her career.

"I was a young officer. I tried to do a traffic stop on a white 5.0 Mustang. He took off from me," Gombar said, recalling one incident. "He ran a red light, t-boned a full-size truck. The driver got ejected from the truck. The white mustang continued down the street, on fire, hit a pole."

She said the driver of the Mustang was allegedly drunk and that a young girl lost her life in the crash. She also said the driver of the truck who was hit by the driver of the Mustang was in bad shape when she checked on him.

"He had that death gurgle that you hear about. Like he was going to die," said Gombar. "I rolled him back just enough that it opened his airway and he actually survived."

That event -- one of many -- stuck with Gombar over the years and led her to Under the Shield to work on how to manage life after repeated traumatic events.

"The thing about trauma is you don’t ever completely get rid of it, you just learn how to handle it," she said.

Another patient-turned-coach at Under the Shield was Chandler police officer Chris Farrar. Officer Farrar died on April 29 after he was struck by a suspect in a stolen vehicle who led police on a wild pursuit from Pinal County to Gilbert.

Simmons said Officer Farrar joined Under the Shield six years ago.

"Chris was suicidal. He went through a very dark time," said Simmons. "He was going through a divorce, he struggled with aFIB (atrial fibrillation). Chris went to jump off a bridge in Chandler, I believe he was on duty, and as he stood there, he was going to jump in front of a truck. He suddenly realized, what would that truck driver go through?"

Simmons said Officer Ferrar stepped off the bridge and shortly after, called Simmons for help.

"He came straight to the office and we started to work," said Simmons.

He became a living example of what success looked like Under the Shield's program.

The more he grew, the more he shared.

Simmons and Farrar spilled everything on a podcast they did together called "Fight in Progress." In one episode, Farrar shared his story on the day that he nearly attempted to end his life.

"Having been through what he had been through, he was a very effective coach because it was kind of a 'been there done that -- had that experience -- so he was very trusted especially among the new officers," said Thomas Lovejoy, with the Chandler Lieutenant Sergeant Association.

Under the Shield currently works with many law enforcement agencies, including the Chandler Police Department.

According to Blue H.E.L.P., a site that reports data on law enforcement suicides, there have been 57 suicides by law enforcement and corrections officers in 2021.

If you are dealing with thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, help is available. You can talk to someone via the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, and find resources at