By Horace Johnson, Director of Training Operations (Retired); and Jerry Huffman, Interim Evaluation Section Supervisor, Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training, Richmond, Kentucky
ften as new recruits begin their law enforcement basic training, they are filled with anxiety and questions about their families’ role in this new career. Spouses and other family members share that anxiety and question where exactly they will fit into the law enforcement community. Fortunately for recruits and their loved ones in Kentucky, the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) Academy has established a solid working model to support officers and their families.
This program, which started in 2005, brings families together during basic training. The Kentucky DOCJT has trained an estimated 900 recruits and over 1,000 family members. Basic recruits are taught the importance of family support during their career and the idea that their family is number one on their priority list, placing it in front of their profession. They are also taught that support comes back to them from family and friends outside of the law enforcement field. In other words, it is okay to have friends outside the law enforcement community. Family members are presented with a program from veteran police couples, who define their relationships and the pitfalls they have overcome, as well as their successes.
At the beginning of the Family Support Program, Dr. Ellen Kirschman, author of I Love a Cop, spoke to police recruits and their spouses, parents, and siblings.1 A copy of her book is still presented today as required reading and as a gift for the family to share.
“The Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training Academy has established an exemplary three-phase program of ongoing support for officers' families that begins in basic training and continues throughout the officer’s career,” Kirschman said. “No longer invisible, police families are given the training and resources they need to manage the challenges that come with the law enforcement lifestyle. Strengthening police families benefits everyone. I hope more training academies are inspired to do the same.”
Dr. Audrey Honig, a nationally recognized police psychologist for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, also spoke during one of the initial programs. She spoke from her expertise to families about how to deal successfully with various issues in the law enforcement profession and how to network and facilitate future support.
“This program goes above and beyond any other I have seen or heard about,” Honig said. She explained that it allows families of new recruits not only to learn about the training and career their loved ones are about to enter but also to support the development of networking with other law enforcement families and facilitate future support. Honig then commented, “This is an excellent program that, sadly, more departments fail to replicate due to lack of funds and/or shortsightedness.” Ultimately, a family can be either a great support or an ongoing pressure for officers; programs such as this foster the support officers need so much.
Implementation of the Program
Goals and objectives were established in the beginning phases of the program. Personnel with counseling experience were selected to communicate the values of law enforcement, the importance of a balanced life, and a positive outlook.
Lessons were learned from the U.S. military, which also has a significant program of family support groups worldwide. These support groups have proven quite successful, and it is only appropriate that police families share in that success. Many Kentucky officers have been called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Family support has taken on a dual definition for these officers and their families.
As the Kentucky DOCJT program emerged, several questions needed to be answered. How much time can be spent on the program? What about logistics? What subjects need to be covered? And, of course, how can the department convince families from all across the state to come to the training? The solution was to offer a hotel room to the families as they attend Phase I. For Phase II, the department offers numerous resources as gifts.
Table 1 outlines the curriculum for the family orientation program.
It is important that officers understand that family priorities continue beyond basic training. The DOCJT offers a gift packet that includes a practical manual regarding the family support program, relevant books, and other practical gifts. The Family Resources icon on the department Web site (www.docjt.ky.gov) allows Kentucky’s officers to locate available resources.
There are several reasons this training is so vital. On a personal level, it shows officers and their families that the community has a vested interest in their welfare and career. It is also tactically important to receive this training: it is sometimes difficult to notice if a spouse or other loved one is mentally distressed. Marital, financial, or any other stressors from home just add pressure to an already stressful job. Furthermore, the training is also important for officer safety; clear-minded officers are less likely to be injured on the job.
One of the benefits to agencies hiring these recruits is that they are getting more well-rounded officers with an established set of priorities and a much-needed support system. As a result, these recruits will miss less work, and their agencies will see fewer worker’s compensation claims from injuries. In this regard, the training also benefits the tax-paying public.
Chief Mike Ward of the Alexandria, Kentucky, Police Department stated, “Most spouses don’t really know what they are getting into. Police work is stressful, but it can be even more so on one’s home life. Open communication between spouses about what goes on in our profession is critical to a long, healthy relationship. This program will set the standard for the nation.”
No one at the Kentucky DOCJT believes that this training will prevent officers’ problems or change the world. But by providing officers with tools to assist them in being successful in their homes, and thus in their law enforcement careers, it can make a difference, one officer at a time. ■
Horace Johnson earned both his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree from Western Kentucky University. He graduated from the FBI Academy in 1986. Johnson was the chief of police at Western Kentucky University from 1991 to 1999. Before being hired at the Kentucky DOCJT in 1999, Dr. Jerry Huffman was a police officer with the Georgetown, Kentucky, Police Department. He earned his doctorate from the Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia.
1Ellen Kirschman, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, rev. ed. (New York: Guilford Press, 2007).
From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 5, May 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.