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Mindful : October 2013
50 mindful October 2013 community Everyone knows this job gets to you, says Sergeant Deborah Case. But you can’t act like it. At the police academy they talk about stress-reduc- tion strategies for maybe 15 minutes. “We deny ourselves the experience of be- ing human,” she says. “It’s going to leach out somewhere.” were members of the hostage-negotiating team, the K-9 team, and a team that focuses on calls involv- ing mental health problems. There were civilian employees of the police depa rtment, too. “ We have the best and the brightest in here,” he said. Goerling hopes that these 24 officers will spread the word, and that, as time goes on, the whole force (121 sworn officers and 41 professional staff) can go through Rogers’ MBSR class. Rogers has had to adjust his teaching for the audience. He tries to use the la ng uage of cops—for- get Buddhist and Sanskrit terms—sprinkling his discussion with terms like “tactical” and “strategy” and “situational awareness.” The typical MBSR lingo, about being “present in the moment,” wasn’t necessarily going to resonate here. Instead, he tells them, “Pay attention to what ’s happening a round you. Notice the thoughts....” Language choices aside, the upshot of mindful- ness training is to help police decrease reactivity and increase thoughtful responsivity; to be assertive rather than aggressive. Without a doubt, this is the heart of good police work. Officers with these skills will be better able to relate to the wife who doesn’t want her abusive husba nd arrested, better able to communicate and think clea rly under stress. In a nut- shell: better able to help the people in their communi- ties whom they have sworn to serve and protect. To get the message through to police, Rogers takes care to liken this mental fitness work to the physical fitness activities that law-enforcement culture has long embraced. “Over time, the shape and size of the brain is changing,” he tells the officers. “ You’re reshaping how the mind works, just like you’re reshaping the body.” Every week Rogers takes the class through a 30- to 40-minute body-scan meditation. When you get dist racted, he tells them, just notice that, without judgment. Then bring your thoughts back to the body. “Each time you do that, that’s a rep,” he says. At one point in class, he flexes his arm like he’s doing bicep curls. Practicing mindfulness, he says, is like build- ing “muscle memory. It’s like doing reps.” All this is great conceptually. But as Slade points out, you’re asking this of police officers. As he and the others lie down in Rogers’ studio with their eyes closed, he can’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 never know. ...” Out on the street, he adds, “My life depends on it.” Goerling says that’s called “hypervigilance.” And it’s not healthy, it’s not sustainable, and it’s not protective. The mindfulness class “isn’t about being rela xed,” he says. “It isn’t about eliminating stress. It’s about being aware of what stress is doing and mitigating its impact.” Like the others, Officer Eric Russell, the tattooed former Marine sniper, came to the class with a dose of skepticism. The homework alone requires that something ’s got to give—like sacrificing a n hour at the gym, for instance. “It really is a big investment,” he says. “A blind investment.” Still, he’s determined to be open-minded. If there’s something that will give him an edge out on the streets, then he’s all for it. He thinks about what he has to juggle every time he gets in his police car. There’s an earpiece where he hears the voice of the dispatcher. There’s a police radio in the car, which may or may not be tuned to the same channel. There’s a computer screen that spits out information about calls a nd suspects. Then there’s the regula r car radio, which he can tune to his favorite radio station. And then there’s the driving, sometimes with lights a nd sirens. “As officers, we spend so much time fine-tuning this craft of multitasking,” he says. The mindfulness class seems to be asking him to do just the opposite: to “sit here and focus on one concept.” He pauses for a moment, thinking further about