Joey Getherall ’01 knew what he was getting into. His father and sister were detectives. Two brothers-in-law and his godfather were also in law enforcement. It’s the Getherall family business.
And yet, when he joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 2005, Getherall couldn’t have fully prepared for what would happen a little over a year later, at 3:45 a.m. near the corner of 12th and Alvarado.
Serving in an anti-gang violence unit, Getherall and another officer were wearing plain clothes and driving in an unmarked car. As they passed by four men, one said something to the undercover officers, took out a gun, and shot at them.
Getherall and his partner fired back, and the men went off in different directions. The officers called for backup. Two assailants were apprehended, arrested, and charged with attempted murder, and one wide receiver-turned-police officer was given a lesson in the dangers of his new profession.
“As a young police officer, I don’t think you’re ever told that people are going to try to kill you,” Getherall says. The shooters had thought Getherall and his fellow officer were members of a rival gang. “It's sad that we live in a society where they shoot at people just because you're wearing the wrong color or you're in the wrong neighborhood.”
After a standout career as a receiver and punt returner at Notre Dame, Getherall briefly pursued the NFL. When that didn’t work out, he was offered opportunities to remain in football by entering the coaching ranks. But, to his surprise, he found himself drawn to follow in his father’s footsteps, knowing it would give him the flexibility to devote a lot of time to his family and the opportunity to serve others.
“That's the biggest thing, to help people in need . . . helping out in any way, knowing that in a second's notice, that we have to risk our lives for people,” he says.
Getherall has faced his share of life-threatening situations. One early morning in January 2007, he was one of five officers who responded to a call reporting an assault involving a knife in an apartment building. One of the other officers subdued the man, took the knife away, handcuffed him, and took him into the hallway. But the suspect had a gun in his back waistband and was able to pull it out with the handcuffs still on and start shooting the officer. A scuffle ensued, and Getherall rushed into the hallway toward the sound of the gunfire.
“When I ran out there, he was just saying, ‘He's shooting me! He's shooting!’ and it's one of those things where you have to be able to process things at warp speed, and you’ve got to make that quick decision on what you have to do because time is of the essence.”
Getherall and two other officers fired at the assailant, who later succumbed to his injuries. Their fellow officer had been shot multiple times but survived thanks to his colleagues’ quick action.
The same traits that made Getherall one of the best punt returners in Notre Dame history allow him to thrive under intense pressure as a police officer. As a senior, he returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged a whopping 16.3 yards per return—and it wasn’t all thanks to his considerable speed and quickness. Getherall trusted his instincts, made quick decisions, and, standing 5 feet and 7 inches, was fearless, refusing to fair-catch punts.
Getherall now works as a K-9 handler in a bomb detection unit. His partner, Trav, is a veteran who served in Afghanistan and lives at home with Getherall, his wife, Jennifer, and their two sons. “He’s a great dog,” Getherall says.
Together, Getherall and Trav work at high-risk locations, like Los Angeles International Airport, and important events, like the Oscars, trying to detect and prevent bombings. They get called into action when visiting dignitaries come to Los Angeles, and Getherall has to be ready to respond in the case of any suspected terrorist activities. He is proud of the work he does to keep his native city safe.
His dedication to service extends beyond his full-time job. He and Jennifer also own and run homes for men with intellectual disabilities. Jennifer, whose mother and grandmother did similar work, grew up around individuals with developmental disabilities who became like family, and she has a passion for helping them.
“Our focus and our mission is: Teach our guys to make great decisions,” Getherall explains. The Getheralls spend as much time as possible with the men, who refer to them as “Mom” and “Dad.” They help them reach their full potential and seek to empower them to feel included in the community. It’s a large time commitment on top of his police work, but Getherall is grateful for the time he and his family get to spend with the men.
“I guess I am wired to help people," he says. “Because at the end of the day, I think our goal, as people of faith, is service. I think everyone needs to take a long, hard look at themselves and see: What have they done? Have they made a difference? Have they changed a life?
“And I personally think I have.”