“When I landed at my first Saybrook Residential Conference, I was anxious. As a white police officer from Salt Lake City, Utah, I felt like a fish out of water. But the faculty and student body were truly the most open-minded group of people I’d ever known.”
Rodger Broomé was a young Utah police officer on patrol one night when something happened that shook his perspective on what it means to serve and protect—a night that would play out years later in his graduate research at Saybrook University.
It started as a routine traffic stop—a car with out of state plates driven by teenagers acting erratically, including a driver with no ID.
“I had a pen and paper, trying to get his name and info. But as the driver was spelling out his last name, he was also reaching over to the center console. I heard the sound of metal hitting a seat belt buckle,” explains Dr. Broomé, who earned a master’s in psychology and then a Ph.D. at Saybrook. “All that went through my head was, ‘He’s got a gun and this is it.’”
He thought about his wife, home and pregnant with their first child. He thought about the innocent 18-year-old back in the squad car, participating in a “ride along” to get a sense of what it’s like to be a police officer.
“All of these thoughts converged in a split second while I took two steps backward,” Dr. Broomé says. “I drew my gun, aimed it in the direction of the driver, pulled the trigger back nearly all the way, but held my fire. I remember thinking to myself that I’ll hold my fire until I see a gun or until he shoots first.”
In the end, there was no weapon. No shots were fired. No lives were lost. But a different choice could have altered the outcome of that evening forever.
“This kid was 17 years old and I almost killed him,” adds Dr. Broomé. “I couldn’t help but think about how my life would have changed if I would’ve dropped the hammer that night on a 17-year-old unarmed kid. This is really what shaped my decision to go back to school and learn more about the psychology of police officers and emergency responders.”
After that experience, Dr. Broomé began a journey of research and exploration that opened his eyes to humanistic psychology and books by police psychologists such as Ellen Kirschman—which is how he discovered Saybrook.
“I was inspired by her work and wrote an email thanking her,” he recalls, explaining that by that time, he had already earned an associate degree and a B.S. in Behavioral Science from Utah Valley University. “She called me at the fire station and recommended that I check out Saybrook and the psychology course ‘Cop Doc,’ led by retired San Francisco Police Captain Al Benner. Graduate school had always felt out of reach, but that was just what I was looking for.”
At Saybrook, Dr. Broomé dug deeper into existential-humanistic psychology and the teachings of Dr. Amedeo Giorgi, known as the “father of the descriptive phenomenological research method in psychology.” Building on his experience that fateful night on patrol, he focused his research projects around police use of deadly force—taking on a bold phenomenological study of what it’s like for police officers who shoot and kill suspects.
“All of the officers experienced a personal transformation in their concept of self and how they see the world. The emotional impact of those deadly encounters may not ever be emotionally resolved,” says Dr. Broomé, who in addition to his work as a police officer, is an assistant professor at Utah Valley University—teaching other firefighters and police officers how psychology principles can help them work better together and serve the public.
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do research at that level. Without Saybrook, Dr. Giorgi, and the rest of the open-minded faculty, I would not be where I am today,” he says. “The Saybrook experience tickled my philosophical sensibilities and cultivated my ability to think critically and seek honest answers about human nature. For those of us who work in public safety, these skills are more important than ever.”