In January, Orange County hosted North Carolina’s first Shift Wellness Conference, training officers in the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, or ICAC, on mental wellness tips.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said he was immediately on board when his deputy George Wilson suggested they host the one day training.

“All these officers and legal professionals came in from all over the state and trainers come in from as far away as New Jersey and California to help with this programing,” said Blackwood.

Special agent in charge of computer crimes for the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation Alan Flora said law enforcement culture often times overlooks mental wellness because officers are supposed to be “strong” and “tough.”

“The purpose of the Shift Wellness Course that we are doing, and this is the first time that we ever had this in North Carolina,” Flora said. “We gathered up members of the ICAC task force to talk about mental wellness, to talk about what it means to have the stressful experience of witnessing child pornography.”

Shift Wellness program director Beth Medina said at the session that the tasks given to ICAC task forces are monumental.

“They see some of the most evil, most traumatic material anyone is going to see and part of what we teach is the education of how your body’s response to that kind of stimulus is an autonomic thing,” said Medina. “So, it’s not about just thinking your way through or past the exposure to the material. And, over years, it may cause some negative side effects, which then can spill over into other parts of their life.”

John Pizzuro is a lieutenant and state police officer from New Jersey who attended the conference as a trainer, and he added he thinks many times officers do not realize the impact that their work has on them.

“Because tomorrow there’s another case; the next day there’s another case and another case and so on. So that impact over time erodes us,” said Pizzuro.

Flora, who was been a law enforcement officer for 26 years, said the overall response was positive and praised Blackwood and Orange County for “going above and beyond” in providing a facility and hosting the conference.

“I was told by the folks from Shift Wellness, who travel all over the country, they’ve never seen a host go so all out as what’s happened here in Orange County so it’s a phenomenal response and we’re really appreciative of that,” said Flora.

The ICAC task force is a national alliance of approximately 160 law enforcement agencies that share information, training resources and tips.