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Mindful : October 2013
48 mindful October 2013 As Officer Stephen Slade reclined to med- itate in mindfulness teacher Brant Rogers’ studio, with his eyes closed, he said he couldn’t help thinking, “Anybody can burst in that door and take full advantage of us. Part of me is saying, you’ve got to stay on high alert because you nev- er know. ...” Out on the streets, he says, “My life depends on it.” acute or cumulative. How can they come out and be stronger?” Goerling was also dedicated to the idea that when police are well themselves, they are able to treat cit- izens with greater empathy, which forges a greater connection with the whole community. He saw how improving emotion regulation a nd increasing self-awa reness and attunement to others could both protect officers and help them be more effective on the streets. Goerling began mentioning MBSR to his col- leagues, but initially many of them saw it as a little too touchy-feely—something akin to the dreaded yoga. “I don’t do yoga,” Megan Hewitt still insists. “I don’t understand yoga and I don’t want to do yoga.” Goerling was undeterred. He bega n inviting Rogers to tra ining events. Rogers remembers one vividly: a simulation of a Columbine-like shooting in a big empty warehouse. “People were dressed up like they were wounded, screaming, fra ntic,” he recalls. “Police cars were going with lights and sirens. Officers began jumping out of their cars and started running toward the warehouse. Gunshots were going off, and C-4 charges. “I was like, what am I doing here?” At the end, Rogers said Goerling introduced him this way: “He said, ‘We have a mindfulness teacher here. How wild and crazy is that?’” One officer came up and shook Rogers’ hand— a sign, to him, that the team was open. “ We’re all human beings,” Rogers says. “No matter what we’re doing, we suffer, and this is a path out of the suffering.” Well, maybe not so fast. One or t wo officers may have been curious. The rest? It would take some- thing more than a handshake to convince them. In the past few years, the military has begun seriously testing a variety of mind-fitness programs, like MBSR, with its troops. Where once militar y training focused mostly on wa rtime skills a nd physical fitness, the Pentagon is beginning to see the benefits in training soldiers to focus their minds through practices like meditation. In 2009, a study published in the journa l Joint Forces Quarterly gave Goerling something to work with. Marine reser vists were trained before deployment in mindfulness practice, and a series of later tests showed that those who spent more time engaging in mindfulness saw improvements in their cognitive performa nce a nd felt less stressed than their colleagues. This wasn’t the touchy-feely-hippie stuff cops loathed. These were warriors. “The a necdotal and scientific evidence was just remarkable,” Goerling says. “ You just couldn’t ignore it.” He went to the police chief and got the go-ahead to put together a class, taught by Rogers, at city expense. But before the program was launched, the department got a new police chief. And just like that, the MBSR course was dead. “ Basically, he had no use at all for mindfulness meditation,” Goerling says. “ It was just a bunch of voodoo.” The new chief would face far bigger problems. As his tenure wore on, his relationship with officers grew more and more strained. By 2013, there were two unfair labor practice complaints filed by the union a nd a lawsuit against the department filed by one of its own officers. Morale was tanking. “It definitely was a hurrica ne,” the chief would later tell the local newspaper. Mea nwhile, it was clear that at least some officers were straying. One sergea nt was disciplined after buying two gallons of maple sy rup—expensing it to the city—then pouring some on a transit station bench. He later explained that was his way of pre- venting loitering. And of course, there was the incident with Officer Cannon. “That was the incident that snapped the orga ni- zation,” Goerling says. Six weeks later, the chief resig ned. The city hired an interim, Ron Louie, who had ser ved as Hills- boro’s chief from 1992 to 2007.