EPD Chief Bolin reacts to active shooter: bullet-riddled cruiser 'scariest' thing he's seen

EPD Chief Bolin reacts to active shooter: bullet-riddled cruiser 'scariest' thing he's seen
EPD Chief Billy Bolin reacts to Friday's active shooter. (WFIE)

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - We are hearing from Evansville's Police Chief for the first time since Friday's deadly shooting rampage that put officers directly in the line of fire.

"First, it's scary when you find out your officers are being shot at," said Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin.

As we first told you Tuesday, police believe they were the sole target of the shooter. Barry Freeman's shots hit several law enforcement vehicles.

Remarkably, no officers were hurt, but the chief said the reality of what could have happened is hitting home with his force. He told us in his entire 23 years in the police force, the patrol car riddled with bullet holes is the scariest and most eye-opening thing he has ever seen.

Now more than ever, Bolin says it is crucial that the department focuses on the mental health of every officer. Every cop involved in a shooting is required to at least go to an initial counseling appointment paid for by the police department.

Those officers are encouraged to attend additional paid counseling appointments, but Bolin says HIPPA laws do not allow them to track officer attendance. Getting first hand accounts from the officers brings one word to mind: lucky.

"Seeing the amount of gunfire, hearing the body cam footage, hearing what happened, talking to some of the officers that were involved, and hearing how upset they are, we are lucky. And not just officers, deputies too. There were deputies on the scene. One of the deputies told me he felt the bullet go by his (pause) He could feel the air from it," said Bolin.

The car is still parked right outside his office.

"You feel pride, but at the same time you feel fear. You feel sad for this family that had a guy that lost his life for no reason at all," says Bolin.

It is a constant reminder of a situation that nearly had a very different ending.

"We're lucky that during police week we're not having funerals right here in Evansville, Indiana," says Bolin.

One look at the patrol car and this bullet hole by the headrest, and you see why. Bolin said the officer who had been driving this cruiser is still shaken.

Bolin says he is proud of every officer involved Friday including Detective Kyle Thiry who leaned out of his cover to shoot Freeman putting himself in the shooter's direct path.

"It was definitely an act of bravery. I think he deserves a merit award," says Bolin.

Bolin said it is not just up to his officers. He said addressing violence in our community starts at home with parents.

"Don't teach your kids we're the enemy. If you're out here teaching your kids that the police are bad, you're setting your kids up for a rough time. We've got a lot of parents in this community that do that. That's not the way. If your kids think of the police as the enemy, they're going to have problems with the police. I guarantee it," said Bolin.

Bolin said this trend he is seeing spans across the country.

"It's a scary time in America right now, and the sad thing I think is we take the criticism from so many community groups about how bad we are where if you talk to people from other countries, American policing is the gold standard," says Bolin.

Now more than ever, officers are encouraged to focus on their mental health. The department pays for counseling and encourages officers to attend regularly following police-action shootings.

Watch all of our coverage from EPD's press conference including body camera and surveillance video here.

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