It was some of the darkest days a police officer can endure that set the table for Mike Yoder, of support services lieutenant for the Newton Police Department, to create some nondescript binders as his capstone project for the Kansas Law Enforcement Leadership Academy.
Those binders contain lists, links, reading materials and support for officers and their families.
“This is to help families and spouses interact with their officers,” Yoder said. “This is specifically designed to go to new officers, but I made sure all of our (Newton) officers had one go to them.”
"Since this book was put out I have had a couple of spouses reach out to me to thank us, they wish they would have had this years prior," said Newton Police Chief Craig Dunlavy. "It is a resource for all of our folks."
It is a resource he wishes his family had during his early career — when his career nearly cost him his family.
“I was on patrol in April of 2005 and I was on the call where Deputy Kurt Ford was killed,” Yoder said. “I was not really aware of how that incident affected me. It was a different time for law enforcement then. The prevailing wisdom was 'take your day off, suck it up and go back to work.' ”
That is exactly what he did, not understanding how that day changed him, or how it changed the way he interacted with his family.
“I did not discuss or understand what I was going through and the toll it took on my personal relationships," Yoder said. "My wife, very clearly, admitted to me that we almost got divorced at that time because I was not handling that stuff appropriately.”
It took time, but Yoder learned to cope. He talked about what was going on, and he mended the relationships at home. He said he came to a realization that he was not protecting his wife by not telling her anything.
“I needed a partner to help with what I was dealing with every day,” Yoder said.
The culture of law enforcement has changed during that time, Yoder said. Officers are encouraged to seek mental health help.
Starting officers are educated about trauma, traumatic events and how it changes a person as an individual. There is, however, a long way to go.
“Last year, twice as many officers died by their own hand than were killed by others,” Yoder said. “Through my own experiences, I realized that we did not engage with families of officers about the stressors this job can have.”
Enter the binder. Filled with resources and conversation starters to help both officers and their families. There are sections on how shift work and sleep deprivation affects officers, how to help officers explain their job to their children, basic financial literacy, the Resiliency Center of Newton and how it can help, time for self-care, the chaplaincy program, ways to listen to each other, ways to listen to trauma victims, tables of ordinary feelings following a traumatic event and reading lists.
“Every time you deal with someone, you take a pitcher and that is yourself. You pour a little out. You go to a call, you pour a little out for that person. Then you go home and you pour a little out for your family. If you do not take time to refill the pitcher, you can no longer pour stuff out for anyone else. ... You need to take time for yourself,” Yoder said. “As hard as this job is, loving an officer is even harder.”
The Law Enforcement Leadership Academy is a yearlong University of Kansas program dedicated to management. The training includes classroom instruction on management topics, law enforcement-specific topics and a capstone project — similar to a doctorate thesis.
Yoder earned a certificate of law enforcement management.
Yoder was born and raised in Newton and is a graduate of Newton High School. A graduate of Washburn University in Topeka, he started his career in law enforcement in 2000. All of his nearly 20 years of service have been with the Newton Police Department.