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Family Academy helps family members learn about law officers' work

Times-News - 3/16/2023

Mar. 15—A family academy organized by the Twin Falls Police Department is giving family members of police officers a better feel for the pressures and stress related to law enforcement careers.

Capt. Matthew Hicks applauds fellow co-workers in the police force for their dedication in serving the community.

"I can tell you that they are willing to take on stressors and go forward headfirst," Hicks said.

But it is important, he said, to ensure officers' mental health needs are met afterward.

Back in 1999, Hicks, then a sergeant and a new father, was a driving force behind the first Family Academy.

Busy careers got in the way and the events went by the wayside, Hicks said, until the academy was revived last year. He hopes to hold it at least annually.

Spouses, police officers' parents, adult children, and fiances have attended the in-depth academy, composed of four sessions of three hours each.

Twenty-three people graduated from the latest academy that concluded this week.

"We take the opportunity to really share with them what their loved one is being exposed to," Lt. Craig Stotts said.

When officers are on duty, they are going to see some people on their "worst days," Stotts said.

"Officers see traumatic things that other people might not see in their lifetimes," he said.

Hicks said he has heard longtime police officers and their spouses say they wish they would have gone through the academy within the first couple of years that the officer took the job.

Communication isn't always easy for officers and spouses as officers get off 12-hour shifts that require them to be "hyper-vigilant," Hicks said.

A recent post on the police department's Facebook page brought positive responses.

"Many retirees would've loved to include their family members in something like this when they were on the job," posted Jaimie Barker, who retired from the Ada County Sheriff's Office in 2015 after 25 years of service. "Might have saved some marriages and other relationships. Way to go TFPD."

The academy includes a section discussing policies regarding critical incidents — officer-related shootings, for example — and how they were handled by the police department and lessons that were learned.

The police department's psychologist addressed the group on how to build emotional endurance.

Hicks said the department has piles of reading material and counseling available for officers, and that it's best to confront mental health issues early on "instead of having months and years of building up to something bad."

Plus, there are lighter, but useful, topics.

"Every night we talk about something meaningful that they can learn," Hicks said.

It might include information about job benefits available to officers, or a presentation by the SWAT team or K9 officers, in case officers might some day want to join them. Another presentation included financial tips.

Tuesday night, the last night of the academy, there was a family potluck dinner in which 15 children showed up and toured the police department, including checking out a patrol car and trying on police gear.

Stotts said the department works to build good relationships.

"Overall, the Twin Falls Police Department is a big family — that's how I look at it," he said.


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