By DEVIN WEEKS
Even on the toughest days, J.D. Putnam knows where he can find something to lift his spirits.
"Regardless of the day you’re having, you can always go to an elementary school, or pretty much a school in general, and you will always get a smile, which changes your behavior and your day," he said.
Putnam is a school resource officer and juvenile detective for the Post Falls Police Department. He grew up in Oklahoma and met his wife of 27 years when they were both in the Air Force, stationed in England. She was from the Inland Northwest, “so this is where we came," he said. "It’s not nearly as hot and humid here, and they don’t have tornadoes here."
He graduated from the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training program in Meridian and has been in law enforcement since 2007.
"I like to help people. That ended up coming from a lot of different jobs,” Putnam said. "I was working for a hospital, and I really liked that, but then I needed more excitement."
He said he doesn't have a specific "best day" that stands out in the past 12 years. He says he’s had many "best days" on the job.
"I will say, one definition of my 'best day' is coming home to see my family," he said. "Another could be a smile, which can change a life without even knowing you did it."
Putnam is a familiar and friendly face for students at all Post Falls elementary schools as well as the Frederick Post Kinder Center and New Vision Alternative School. Typically, he makes rounds to at least two schools a day and visits all the schools at some point during the week, but he says he goes wherever he's needed.
"You don’t know what you’re getting into, or you’ll get a call from Health and Welfare, and then your whole day just changes," he said. "Depending on the situation, that could be the rest of your day."
Generally, he's not shaking down kids for bad behavior — it's the adults he has to keep an eye on. He spends more time investigating child abuse and sexual abuse and conducting forensic interviews than he does checking lockers for drugs or breaking up schoolyard fights. This requires the ability to earn the trust of students as well as the adults involved.
"The biggest eye-opener for me has been children’s mental health," he said. "Probably mental health in general, but since I work with kids, you get all ages and all kinds of different things going on. You see a different side of things that people don’t necessarily see. You see the team, the community, whether that be the hospital or even the juvenile detention center, if that’s needed, or just the school, all the way down to the parents. It’s eye-opening, it really is. You don’t expect the things that you see."
Just like the rest of us, Putnam isn't immune to the sneaking panic that ensues when a cop car seems to be following him.
“I had that happen once,” he said with a grin. “I looked in my mirror and had a police vehicle behind me. I instantly checked my speed, 'cause that is what you do, then it hit me that I was in my own police car."
When he's working in the wee hours, he doesn't have a particular place to find a coffee or a bite.
"Just about any store that is open," he said. "Generally, a convenience store — or there are a few stores that sell a ring-shaped cake made of dough and fried in an oil, if you know what I mean."
He loves the excitement of his job, and he loves the kids, but when he's off duty he loves being with his family and friends and enjoying time outdoors fishing and camping.
For J.D. Putnam, smiles are a dime a dozen.