GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Gene Tobin's dream became a reality in 1998, when the kid from Hudsonville put on a Grand Rapid Police Department uniform.
"Long-time dream," Tobin told Target 8. "Especially Grand Rapids. A larger agency."
Tobin beamed with pride as he looked at the photos and mementos on the wall of his home, detailing the triumphs and, in some cases, trials of his career with the GRPD, including the plaque honoring him as Officer of the Year in 2008.
What happened to Tobin over the last 16 years is a story of dedication, failure, redemption and in the end, realization.
Like some soldiers returning home from war, Tobin was one of the officers fighting the war at home and is now dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Early on in his career with GRPD, Tobin grew to love the job even though many times, he had to deal with people having a bad day.
"I never got a call where they said, ‘Hey, can you send four or five guys over here (because) Billy got all A's? Dad, his job is going great! Mom made a beautiful pie! Can you send about five cops over here?'"
But there was the camaraderie among fellow officers. GRPD became a second family for Tobin.
Then came the crack of his cruiser's radio in the early morning hours of July 8, 2007.
Tobin said that the call that went out, which said response was needed for a man with a gun, was very common in Grand Rapids.
But in police work, common can suddenly become a nightmare.
Another responding officer was not answering his radio. Tobin and other officers found a broken garage window at the back of the home on Emerald Avenue northeast and saw Officer Robert "Bobby " Kozminski on the ground.
Kozminski had been shot. Tobin and three other officers risked their lives when they pulled his body from the backyard.
Suspect Jeffrey VanVels was later convicted of ambushing Kozminski and shooting him to death.
"I will never forget it, Tobin said. "From that point on the game changed for me as a police officer. And the game definitely changed for me as a person."
FIRST SIGNS OF TROUBLE
Tobin said the support from the public during Kozminski's funeral was overwhelming.
"The people who stood along that funeral route with signs that said ‘We love you, we support you,' spoke volumes to the hearts of the Grand Rapids Police officers." Tobin said, recalling Kozminksi's funeral procession.
But when the funeral was over and things at GRPD began returning to normal, Tobin began a downward spiral.
He began drinking heavily. His 10-year marriage fell apart. He used up all of his sick and vacation time.
"I shut it all off. I didn't want to interact with people," Tobin told Target 8. "From the inside looking out, I couldn't see it."
There was help available through the police department. Tobin went to one session, but didn't return after that.
"I didn't see the warning signs that there was something going on," Tobin said.
TIME DOES NOT HEAL ALL WOUNDS
Eventually, Tobin says he began feeling better. After his divorce, he poured himself into his work.
Remember Troy Brake? He was the man convicted of killing four people and setting their Wright Township home on fire in in the fall of 2008.
Tobin was on patrol late one night and caught Brake beating a woman. He chased Brake down and while he didn't know at the time, the arrest broke the quadruple murder case wide open.
Career-wise, 2008 was turning out to be a good year for Tobin.
"It was like people were just jumping into to the back of my car, to get in the back seat," Tobin said. "To tell me things that had happened."
Tobin's fellow officers named him GRPD's Officer of the Year in 2008.
Tobin had fooled himself and others into thinking he was all right. But it would all bubble to the surface shortly after another heartbreaking radio call.
It was July 7, 2011. Three years and 364 days after Kozminksi was murdered.
This time, it was a veteran officer on the radio looking through a doorway at a home on Plainfield Avenue.
"'I've got three Code K's here,' meaning there's three murder victims." Tobin said, recalling what came over the radio that afternoon.
"And you could hear it in his voice," Tobin said. "I knew, with the amount of experience he had, that what he had just witnessed had to have been awful."
Officers were just learning of the violence Rodrick Dantzler was inflicting on the community.
Seven people would die at the hands of Dantzler, who shot himself at the end of that violent day.
Not knowing Dantzler's whereabouts, Tobin and other officers cautiously entered the home where the bodies of Dantzler's one-time girlfriend Kimberlee Emkens, her sister, Amanda Emkens and Amanda's 10-year-old daughter, Marrisa, were on the floor.
The flood of emotions Tobin felt four years prior returned.
"It was that same feeling, it was immediately right there," Tobin said. "That smell and vision of horrific, violent death."
A PROMISING CAREER ENDS
Just like the day he helped carry Kozminski from the backyard on Emerald Street, Tobin and his fellow officers
had to push emotions aside and do their jobs on the day of Dantzler's rampage.
For Tobin, the accumulative effect would eventually become too much to handle, and the symptoms surfaced a short time later, out of the blue.
Tobin was on his couch at home during his day off when the neighborhood tornado siren went off.
"And, ah, I began to cry. I began feeling very anxious and crying," Tobin said. "And I didn't know why."
While Tobin finally got the help he needed, it was too late for his career.
Tobin retired on disability in early 2013.
TOBIN'S CASE IS NOT UNIQUE
Doctor Robert Wolford, Ph.D., a cop-turned-counselor, is the Chief Police Psychologist for the Michigan State Police. He spent over a decade as an officer in Illinois.
Wolford said there is no empirical data showing just how prevalent full blown PTSD is among law enforcement.
"I think in general, what we see more is law enforcement officers show symptoms of PTSD," Wolford said.
Those symptoms are not necessarily career-enders. Larger problems develop if symptoms are not treated early, leading to serious mental health issues.
But it's not easy convincing someone who wears a badge that they need help.
"By their very nature, emergency responders are individuals that are rescuers and fixers," Wolford said. "We're real good at taking care of other people. We're not as good at taking care of ourselves."
HELP IS AVAILABLE
Tobin said he does not blame his GRPD superiors for his early retirement. Help was offered, but he turned it down.
GRPD requires officers to go through a debriefing session with mental health professionals after traumatic events like an officer shooting or a particularly violent crime scene.
Officers are also encouraged to take advantage of additional counseling through the city's employee assistance program, but there's is no way to tell how many GRPD officers get that help, because the department doesn't want to scare anyone away from getting it. No numbers are tracked.
Wolford said that's a problem for most departments and it would be hard to convince some officers that, like any medical information, counseling sessions would be confidential.
"There's issues of trust," Wolford said. "There's issues of, ‘Is the department going to know about my medical information? Am I going to lose my job because of this?'"
Tobin said he believes departments should make counseling mandatory.
"They have to be able to say, ‘We're not going to ask you how you feel, you're going to see somebody," Tobin said.
CAN YOU FORCE SOMEONE TO GET HELP?
Michigan State Police has a different approach. Like physical fitness, mental fitness is part of the MSP culture.
Wolford said recruits are told about the mental health issues they may face early on and are introduced to a department psychologist at the police academy.
Fellow troopers also encourage others to use their services.
"When an officer is involved in a shooting, before we even offer the debriefing, another trooper will have called them, (one) who has been in a shooting before and says, 'The docs are going to be calling you and offering you a debriefing. Go. It's a good thing,'" Wolford said.
Those factors are key to MSP's success in treating the symptoms of PTSD before they become a bigger problem.
LIFE AFTER LAW ENFORCEMENT
Tobin said he is finally at peace. He lives on a Barry County lake with his new wife and child, renting and repairing boats for a living.
But he also wonders if things would have been different if he had gotten the help he had been offered sooner.
"If I would have just went, sat down and talked to somebody, perhaps this could have all went differently," Tobin said.
Richard Schmeling could face up to 24 years in prison.
Kent County officials are trying to avoid the case of a rookie corrections officer -- who was assaulted on the job and then fired -- from going to an arbitrator.
Philanthropist Ralph W. Hauenstein is donating $1 million to Grand Valley State University's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies.