Within an hour after Denton police Officer Urban Rodriguez Jr. was shot just after midnight Oct. 29, every cop on the night shift, whether they were working that night or not, was on duty.
“Some of the officers who showed up had tears in their eyes,” night shift supervisor Sgt. Michael Christian said, “but they were ready to do what needed to be done.”
Other 911 calls didn’t stop. Officers, dispatchers and investigators had to keep responding to them even as they processed what had just happened to their buddy. In a department of 180 sworn officers, word spread as fast as the ambulance carrying him to emergency surgery that Rodriguez had gotten shot twice while on a traffic stop.
The mood in the immediate aftermath, Christian said, was surreal, the feeling one has after finding out a family member was in a bad car crash or after catastrophes nobody really prepares for.
“It’s staring you right in the face,” Christian said.
Police leadership didn’t have to ask officers to come to work, supervisors said in an interview this week with the Denton Record-Chronicle. The motivation, they said, was for Rodriguez and fellow officers, the majority of whom hadn’t ever experienced an officer shooting in their career.
“Since that day, people have stepped up, no matter what,” day shift supervisor Lt. David Mays said. “We help each other. We’ve probably come closer together after this. You don’t know what somebody else is going through, so you just try to make their life as good as you can make it.”
It’s a response that gave Chief Frank Dixon, 900 miles away in Chicago at a conference when Rodriguez was shot, the credibility to say, hours later when he arrived for a news conference, that his department was unbroken by the shooting.
As officers showed up for work or to Medical City Denton or to the shooting scene, leaders within the department unfurled a plan aimed at keeping police healthily resilient.
It began with one-on-one conversations with officers, making sure that each was thinking clearly and able to carry on.
“It’s an abnormal event, so you want to reassure them that whatever feelings they’re having is a normal response,” Sgt. Trent Jones said.
Days later, there were debriefings in which officers could talk openly about the nontactical aspects of what happened.
“It’s not about who did what right and who did what wrong,” Jones said. “It helps normalize the process for them. You want them to become resilient.”
Police are expected to control their emotions in these events, just like any calls. But that does not mean they don’t need to unpack what they’re wrestling with when something like this happens, police said Friday.
“You’ve got to have healthy cops,” Jones said. “If they’re not healthy, they’re not solving problems, they’re contributing to them.”
Jones is a member of the department’s peer-support team, the group whose volunteer role it was to assess how officers were doing after the shooting. The team is not here just for shootings; members go through specific training to help manage stress after traumatic or critical events, no matter the case type.
“It’s broken down this concept that you’ve got to be this tough guy or this tough girl, that you’ve got to be hard and calloused,” Christian said.
Jones added, “We’re starting to break the old stereotypes of cops.”
That Rodriguez was critically injured by gunfire is not as significant to some officers as the fact that he was injured at all.
“If he had been stabbed, if he had been run over by a car, if he had been hit with a bat, we’ve got an officer that was injured,” Christian said. “Someone meant him harm and carried that out.”
Rodriguez is the first Denton officer to be shot while on duty since 1992.
“Urban went out there to do his job, and he encountered somebody who, without provocation, tried to kill him,” Mays said.
Police say Antwon Pinkston shot Rodriguez. He sits in the Denton County Jail on charges of attempted capital murder of a peace officer and aggravated assault on a public servant.
“That person was a threat to the community at large, it wasn’t just he was a threat to police,” Mays said. “We’re here to stand in that gap and keep everyone else safe. [Rodriguez] did that, and it got him hurt.”