In the past, James Sims’ new job as a Coeur d’Alene police officer would have required him to spend 10 weeks away from his wife and two young daughters to complete law enforcement training in southern Idaho.
But when he began his 13-week training course Monday, he had just a short drive from his Post Falls home to North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, and he’ll be home for dinner almost every night.
“It’s nice not to have to be away from my children,” said Sims, 35, whose daughters are 2 and 4. “My 4-year-old knows Daddy is going to school to learn police stuff.”
Sims is one of 20 students in the inaugural North Idaho POST Academy at NIC. New law enforcement officers are required by state law to complete the Peace Officer Standards and Training course within six months of their hire, said Michael Berg, North Idaho POST Academy director. However, until now, the only available academy has been in Meridian, between Boise and Nampa.
NIC received approval from the POST council to offer two academy sessions – one in the spring and one in the fall, said Jay Lee, vice president for instruction at NIC. After that, the program will be evaluated to determine if it will continue, Berg said.
“I’d like to see this academy be born and grow,” said Berg, who was hired by NIC in January to put the academy together. Berg has three decades of experience in law enforcement and in training and teaching at the community college level in California.
POST council members are appointed by the governor and serve four-year terms. They include sheriffs, police chiefs and leaders from agencies including the Idaho State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Correction and the attorney general’s office.
North Idaho law enforcement leaders have long wanted a regional training academy to help address overcrowding in Meridian and ease travel issues for recruits. In the past two years, collaboration among NIC, law enforcement agencies and the POST Academy has resulted in North Idaho’s first regional academy.
“It got us out … of having to focus on a single source of training,” said John Parmann, a program development manager with the Idaho POST Academy. “We’re really breaking some ground here, establishing this as a functional collaborative effort.”
The first academy will include officers from the Kootenai, Bonner, Shoshone and Boundary county sheriff’s departments; the Coeur d’Alene, Plummer, Post Falls, Rathdrum and Bonners Ferry police departments; and the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene tribal police departments.
“We’re hoping this will become a permanent fixture,” said Coeur d’Alene police Chief Wayne Longo. He and Rathdrum police Chief Kevin Fuhr also cited the benefits of having North Idaho law enforcement officers begin their careers with solid contacts through relationships formed with classmates and instructors from regional agencies. And, Longo said, having an academy in North Idaho could open the door for single parents interested in a law enforcement career.
One challenge was assuring the POST council that NIC’s program could accurately replicate the curriculum offered in Meridian. The academy there includes a firearms training simulation room, mock apartment and cell blocks for scenario training, and advanced computer labs for investigative courses. North Idaho sites have been identified to satisfy those training requirements.
Training at the Meridian academy is paid for by the POST council, which is funded by a percentage of traffic citations and fines statewide, Longo said.
Tuition at the North Idaho academy is $1,133, Berg said. The agencies will cover those costs for recruits, Longo said, with hopes that when the North Idaho program becomes more established, the POST council would cover those fees.