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Mindful : October 2013
At a time when the Hillsboro Police Department was in need of some help, Police Chief Ron Louie took a chance and endorsed the idea of offering a mindful- ness class within the department. Louie had himself been among a handful of officers in the 1970s who were selected for an exper- imental program that trained them in new approaches. “Instead of walking into a crisis, taking out the baton, and throwing every- body in jail,” he says, “ we’d communicate.” what goes on in the police car. “It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen,” he concedes. “Maybe now I can acknowledge that the distractions are taking place but focus on one thing.” Lemen, too, is giving it a shot. As a K-9 officer, she says, “I’ve been taught that my stress runs down-leash to my dog. If my dog is a little calmer, maybe I’ll be a little more successful. Maybe because I’m doing this mindful stuff, maybe that will help me not be so amped up.” As she was going through her daily routine of putting on her bulletproof vest, belt, gun, a nd boots, she realized something: she could put on her uniform in a mindful way, rather tha n letting her mind race. That would be good practice. Engaging mindfully with routine daily tasks, she reasoned, could help her in the field, when things are much, much more complicated. Goerling has a hypothesis: “The outcome of the police/citizen encounter, every single one, is in large part dependent on how well I am as a police officer. If I’m not physically well, that creates some prob- lems. If I’m not emotionally well, holistically well, I’m not going to regulate my emotions very effec- tively. I’m not going to listen very effectively. I’m not going to be empathetic.” Mindfulness, he believes, is “where emotional intelligence a nd wellness come together.” If officers are trained in mind work, if they practice it, they’ll feel better. They’ll police better. And that ’s good for the community. This isn’t just about tiny Hillsboro, Oregon, either. If Goerling had his way, officers wouldn’t be driving around in the police cars that Russell described. “ How do we desig n a cockpit that is less dema nding on the cognition of police officers?” he wonders. Where else can we make cops’ work easier? Can his officers—a g roup who was brave enough to go through this unusual class—play a role in shaping police work across the country? “My vision is that we become the epicenter of positive cultural change in law enforcement,” says Goerling. “Because of our perfect storm of where we are, because of how screwed up things are, a lot of good things are happening.” ● Maureen O’Hagan is a Pulitzer Prize- winning Seattle Times reporter.