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Mindful : October 2013
44 mindful October 2013 community Like others in the department who volunteered to take the mindfulness class, Officer Eric Russell arrived feeling skep- tical. But he’s keeping an open mind, espe- cially considering what he has to juggle every time he gets in his police car—from an earpiece he wears that’s connected to the dispatcher to the po- lice radio that is often tuned to a different channel to a computer screen flashing infor- mation to the driving itself, sometimes with lights and sirens. “It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.” On a Tuesday afternoon this spring, nearly two dozen cops f rom the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, ambled into foreign territory: a yoga studio. They were here for a unique course in mindfulness, one that proponents say could help transform policing. As they settled in, they joked and jabbed with the ease of colleagues who have worked together for yea rs. They piled up mats and pillows with the excessiveness of those who haven’t spent much time in savasana, some building nests that looked like La-Z-Boys. On one side of the room sat an officer who recently had to conf ront a man hacking down a door with a Japanese sword—he was fighting off imaginary attackers. On the other side of the room was a former Ma rine sniper who had ser ved in Iraq, with a haloed grim reaper tattooed on his arm. Now, in this peaceful room, with the daylight dimmed by mauve curtains, these members of the Hillsboro Police Department were being asked to contemplate a raisin. “Press on the raisin,” the instructor said in a soothing monotone. “Is it soft, rough, or smooth? Is there a stickiness?” Everyone was engaging mindfully with their raisin—or so it seemed. “ We all knew what was crossing each other’s minds,” Officer Denise Lemen says later. “ We all wanted to start shouting out one-liners.” If they’d so much as glanced at each other, they would have burst out laughing. Or worse. “ Being able to go there, and focus, is ha rd,” Lemen continues. “In my mind, I’m like, it’s a frickin’ raisin.” (Except she didn’t use the word “frickin’.”) You may know the ra isin exercise. You may rec- ognize it as challenging. What you may not realize is just how difficult it is to run this exercise for cops—and how much it took to get them here. These officers have responded to homicides and suicides; they’ve removed children f rom abusive parents and slapped cuffs on drunk drivers; they’ve chased down robbers and been taunted by hostile ga ngba ngers. They think of themselves as warriors. And now a shriveled old grape was ma king them feel like they were losing control. “It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done in a long time,” says Officer Lisa Erickson. Yet, as uncomfortable as this class would get, the two dozen officers sig ned up because they knew something had to change. Their profession is tough. In Hillsboro, things were even worse. In fact, you might say that Hillsboro’s finest ca me to mindful- ness the same way a drug addict comes to treatment: they hit rock bottom. Lieutenant Michael Rouches likes to say that when he joined the Hillsboro police force some 20 years ago, “we were 24 miles away from Portland but light years away from its progressiveness.” In those days, Hillsboro was all about agricul- ture—the kind of town where kids were sometimes let out of school to help with the berry har vest. Back then, one of the larger employers was Ca rnation, the powdered-milk company. In Rouches’ time here, the population has doubled, to 93,000 residents. There’s still ag riculture—includ- ing vineya rds of pinot noir a nd chardonnay grapes— and a sizeable Latino population supporting it. But now it’s mainly known as the center of Oregon’s “sil- icon forest,” where the drivers are biotech and high tech. Genentech, a compa ny that ma kes blockbuster hormone therapy and cancer drugs, has a packag- ing-and-distribution facility here. Intel, the chip- ma ker, has 18,000 employees in Hillsboro, its la rgest site in the count ry. Those industries have attracted well-educated workers from a round the globe. For the city’s 120 sworn officers, policing here is challenging, as it is every where. As cops like to say, it’s 80% boredom a nd 20% sheer terror. “This job,” says Officer Stephen Slade, “will break you down and crush your soul.” Think about it. Cops take people to jail. They’re not happy. Cops give people tickets. They’re not happy. They a rrest the husband who is beating his wife—only to have the wife jump on them because she doesn’t want him locked up.