GRANGEVILLE — “I have been married for 20 years, and there is no easy, super magic fairy tale to this,” said Erin Nichols.

Erin has the title of “Mrs. Grangeville,” and will compete in the 2018 Mrs. Idaho, America, contest in Boise in October. She spoke to a crowd of about 50 people who attended a law enforcement forum and dessert auction she was host to Sunday, Aug. 12.

“I have learned the art of apology,” she smiled at her husband, Idaho State Police Officer Zach Nichols.

Erin’s forum is to bridge a gap between law enforcement officers and the public and to build better community relations. To that end, she formed a panel of officers to speak and answer questions.

“My initial ideas on guns and police were formed early on when I was held up at gunpoint,” Erin explained. “At the time, I thought there should be stricter gun laws. I have since learned that evil is evil and stricter laws will probably not stop someone from obtaining a weapon.”

Erin said she now feels it is not only her right, but also her responsibility, to protect her family, herself and others.

“I have made that choice, to learn to use a weapon and carry,” she said.

She spoke about how children are often taught to fear the police.

“We need to change that culture, so the police are someone they run to, not from,” she said, explaining that even the joking of “be good or they’ll take you away” is destructive.

“We need to be positive and encouraging,” she added.

ISP sergeant Chris Middleton shared the biggest public misconception is that “we don’t care or we have quotas,” he said.

Middleton explained to the group he feels the “loss of personal accountability,” is a huge problem in today’s society.

“People want instant gratification,” he said. This, he added, trickles down to “dealing it out in the courtroom,” so that sometimes the criminal only gets a slap on the hand and then, “people wonder why we aren’t doing our job, when we did – but then it’s out of our hands.”

Cottonwood Police Chief Terry Cochran said when serving in a rural area, “you’re essentially never off duty.”

“We want to help, always, but there are times when it’s probably not OK for the public to open up a two-hour conversation when you’re out with your family,” he laughed. As if on cue, Cochran and his wife, Jennifer, were summoned to an accident just after 8 p.m.

“We do like that people here feel we are approachable,” Grangeville Police Chief Morgan Drew said. “But we are human and we do need time with our families, too.”

Zach added that “sometimes police officers make mistakes, just like anyone else. We want to do the right thing and be the best we can be,” he said.

Each officer emphasized the fact they care about the public and individualized situations, “or else we wouldn’t even be in this field,” Middleton said.

Audience member Charlotte Carlson asked if the officers like to hear success stories where a one-time law-breaker has turned his life around. The answer was a resounding “yes!”

Drew told a story about earlier in his career when he had given up on a person; however, his wife, who was in the probation field, did not. That man turned into a good father who was a productive citizen.

“This was a good lesson for me — you don’t give up on people when they are at their worst. That’s when they need us the most,” he said.

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