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Mindful : August 2017
and the top of your heart, and the sides of your heart. Air is coming into your heart from all sides, 360°.” Later, some of the officers will privately make wisecracks about the exercise. Not Officer Eric White, though. The 51-year-old former pro- fessional basketball player, a soft-spoken man with a shaved head, tries to visualize his heart receiving oxygen. And he feels it: a clean breath, carrying his stress away. Working in law enforcement can be life-threatening, and not just because of violent encounters. Researchers have linked policing careers to high rates of depression, PTSD, and substance abuse, along with physical ailments like sleeplessness, diabetes, and sudden cardiac death. Officers are more prone to attempt suicide than the general population, and more likely to kill themselves than get killed on duty. Plus, because police culture values stoicism, officers are often reluctant to seek out mental-health treatment. One study of almost 2,800 white male police officers in Buffalo, New York, found their average life expectancy to be 22 years shorter than their civilian counterparts. The authors, from the University of Buffalo and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, suggested that stress, trauma, obesity, shift work, and exposure to toxic chemicals might all contribute to the early deaths. The consequences go beyond the occupational hazards. When police suffer from debilitating stress, they are more likely to exhibit problems at work, “including uncontrolled anger toward suspects,” researchers at Oregon’s Pacific Uni- versity noted in a 2015 study. Little surprise, then, that over the past few years, the United States has been rocked by repeated news reports of police killings of civilians. The highest-profile victims have been African-American men and boys: 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot while playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park; Eric Garner, a sometime ven- dor of untaxed cigarettes who died in a police chokehold in Staten Island, New York; Philando Castile, a school cafeteria worker shot during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota; Fred- die Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury while shackled in the back of a Baltimore police van; and most famously, 18-year-old Michael Brown, shot six times in Ferguson, Missouri, during a tense street encounter. Castile had notified police that he legally possessed a gun; none of the rest were carrying firearms. → This page: Emeryville police officers meditate following a yoga class at department headquarters. On facing page: Officer Eric White, a former NBA basketball player, has been an EPD member for almost 20 years and is a participant in Chief Tejada’s mindfulness pilot program. After the fatal police shooting in 2015 of an armed shoplifting suspect, tensions between the public and the department ran high. “No one said, ‘Hey, how you doing?’” he recalls. “You guys ready for a technique?” the trainer asks. “Everybody, sit up straight. Uncross your legs. Just look straight ahead.” Eric White gathers his 6-foot-8 frame and straightens his back in the conference-room chair. Instead of his usual police uniform, he wears a blue polo shirt and jeans. The trainer, Don Char- trand, is visiting Emery ville, California, to talk with officers here about how to reduce their stress and build resilience with exercises like inten- tional breathing. “This is not anything weird,” he promises. “This is absolutely science-based.” Cops appreciate evidence, he knows, and so Chartrand has come equipped with PowerPoint graphs and lessons about heart-rate variability, the stress hor- mone cortisol, and how to keep the autonomous nervous system in balance. Chartrand reassures the 18 officers that his goal is practical: boosting their performance on the beat. “It’s not about going to your happy place. This is not la-la lightweight nonsense,” he says. “I’m serious: This is blood and guts, some- times life and death.” He directs them to place their hands over their hearts. Some comply more eagerly than others. “Use your imagination,” he says. “It’ll sound weird. Pay attention to your breath. And imagine that the breath is flowing into your heart through your hand. Deep breaths. It’s a little odd. Now I want you to imagine that the breath is flowing through the back, the bottom, 62 mindful August 2017 community