Mitch Kajzer sometimes wonders how his life would be different if he hadn't been shot 20 years ago as a young South Bend police officer.

"If it had never happened, I probably would have been a career police officer," he says.

That would have been fine, but he's thrilled about where he is now ... receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology May 8 from Indiana University South Bend and preparing to begin studies in a doctoral program at the University of Notre Dame.

"It's funny how things happen in your life and force you out of your comfort zone," says Kajzer, 46, a lifelong South Bend resident.

Kajzer was shot four times in his legs and torso during a traffic stop on May 1, 1992.

Recovery took a long time, and Kajzer still feels the results of his injuries every day. He has limited sensation in his left leg, and no feeling at all in the ankle and foot.

He wears a leg brace to aid his mobility. He continues to exercise daily, including running, biking and tennis. 

Kajzer's injuries were serious enough that he likely could have taken disability retirement, but he knew that wasn't the path for him.

What has he learned about himself in the two decades since the shooting?

"I'm very resilient," Kajzer says. "Throughout life, you're always going to have challenges put in your path. You have to work hard to overcome them rather than develop a pessimistic attitude."

He even says a lot of good came about after the shooting. "As I look back and look at where I am now, I wouldn't change a thing about the past," he says.

Robert Earl Smith, of South Bend, was convicted of attempted murder and three counts of criminal recklessness for shooting Kajzer. He is serving a 53-year prison sentence.

Kajzer's wife, Lynn, and daughter Courtney, now 21, have backed him throughout his physical recovery from the shooting and his various career changes.

He returned to work at the South Bend Police Department after the shooting and worked as an officer for eight more years.

He worked in private industry for a few years, then returned to law enforcement as an investigator for the high-tech and Internet crimes division of the St. Joseph County prosecutor's office. He thrived in that job, investigating more than 1,000 technology cases, many involving child pornography, child seduction and other crimes against children.

Over six years, the division pursued nearly 1,500 cases, making 150 to 200 arrests. All the arrests resulted in convictions, with all but two of those charged pleading guilty, he said. Most of the perpetrators of crimes against children were men, ranging in age from 18 to more than 70 years old.

The high-tech crimes unit was eliminated in 2009 because of budget cuts. Since then, Kajzer has been working for South Bend-based Keilman Business Consulting Inc., conducting computer forensics investigations for private clients.

Kajzer enrolled at IUSB in 2010 for enjoyment and to fulfill a longtime goal of earning a bachelor's degree. (He earned an IUSB associate degree in criminal justice 25 years ago.)

He decided to study psychology because of his experiences on the high-tech crimes unit. In that job, Kajzer interviewed many individuals accused of victimizing children through pornography or molestation.

Many of the accused were eager to talk to police, explaining how committing such acts against children was perfectly normal in their eyes, Kajzer said. "A lot of them placed blame on the child," he said.

"What makes them think like that?" Kajzer asked himself. He decided to study psychology to gain a better understanding of such individuals.

As a senior project, Kajzer analyzed computer forensics evidence from 100 local cases involving crimes against children, both cases in which the accused only used a computer (such as transmitting child pornography) and also cases in which the accused made physical contact and molested a child.

His research indicates that the level of an individual's involvement in computer crimes is not a reliable predictor of whether that person will physically molest a child. Kajzer presented his research this month at the Midwest Psychological Association Conference in Chicago.

"I've melded my law enforcement background, forensics background and psychology studies," he says. Kajzer plans to continue his research, with a goal of coming up with a way of predicting which computer predators are most likely to physically abuse children.

He's teaching a course at Notre Dame, an introduction to computer forensics. And in August, he will begin studies there toward a doctorate in psychology, focusing on cognition, brain and behavior. After earning a Ph.D., he plans to work as a college professor and researcher.

"Your life is made up of a lot of different incidents, including negative incidents. It's all part of the big picture," Kajzer says. "I came out of it fine, I learned a lot and I'm in a better position because of it."

Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: 574-235-6329