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Mindful : August 2017
armed woman suspected of shoplifting and attempted carjacking, had sparked protests that briefly shut down both City Council and the Home Depot where the incident began. But things were quieter inside police headquarters. “No one talked about it,” Officer White recalls. “No one said, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” Shortly after arriving in Emery ville, Tejada attended a three-day Resilience Immersion Training led by Goerling—her first exposure to mindfulness that didn’t involve an app or the internet. Impressed by the workshop, she began to think about how to introduce cultur- ally appropriate mindfulness practices to her department. She began by bringing in a former police officer, Michelle Garcia, to teach her employees yoga. “It’s really beneficial for us to have some- one who can walk in and say, ‘I’m one of you,’” Tejada says. Reactions to the class were mixed, but Captain Dante Diotalevi (the department’s second-in-command) says it flushed out some closet enthusiasts: “You look across the room, and this guy’s doing a crazy stretch, and he’s a lot more limber than you, and he says, ‘ Yeah, I do it with my wife.’ You didn’t hear that before.” Next came the breathing workshop with Don Chartrand, who used a curriculum developed by the nonprofit Institute of HeartMath. At the end of the two-hour session, officers received new iPhones loaded with both the HeartMath self-monitoring app and the 10% Happier app that had rescued Tejada. The chief has other plans in the works, including a recovery room where officers can escape during a stressful day. She wants this calming inner work to reinforce a more compas- sionate, less confrontational, style of policing. She gives the example of a bicyclist who curses out an officer and flees after being stopped for riding without a headlight. “Do we really need to have a pursuit?” Tejada asks. “And when we catch up, do we really need to grab them on their bike, take them to the ground, and handcuff them? It doesn’t fit into what we are trying to achieve in the community.” How might this training play out, step-by- step, in the field? Goerling imagines a scenario in which police are called to a tense situation. Maybe there’s a mass protest that’s turning vio- lent. “ Before we deploy, there’s a self-awareness check,” he says. “ We’re going to take a moment to do some deep breathing. We have to be aware of how we feel; we’re going to embrace the fear. We’re going to embrace, maybe, the anger at the injustice that’s occurring. But we’re not going to let those emotions interfere with our tactical, cognitive decision making.” That’s the theory. Researchers are now trying to determine whether, in the real world, this could actually work. At the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Healthy Minds, psychol- ogists and neuroscientists are working with the Madison Police Department to gauge the impact of an eight-week modified version of MBRT. The scientists are looking at physiological measures like heart rate and breathing, along with com- puter tests that measure the ability to inhibit automatic responses in the face of emotional distractions. (Think about the impulse to reach for a gun in a highly charged, but not life-threat- ening, situation.) They are also interviewing officers about how the training affects their relationships with family members, coworkers, and the communities they serve. “The goal is not just to help police officers have happier and healthier lives,” says assistant scientist Dan Grupe, who is leading the study. “Nationally, we have a crisis in policing, and we have a complete breakdown of trust. It’s one of the core issues that is tearing our country apart. I don’t have any wild delusions about what we can do with this research. But the idea that we may be able to contribute, in some way, to address these larger issues is what drives me.” Grupe says it’s too early to share results. And he warns that mindfulness training, even in a best-case scenario, won’t solve the problem. “If it gets us five percent of the way there, that’s a huge impact,” he says. But note the word if: “We’re not taking for granted that this is going to work, or that it’s going to work in a particular way. As sci- entists, we try to be agnostic about that. We have to look at the data and see what it shows.” Other research has offered encouragement. In a Canadian study published last year, police were taught visualization, focused attention, WEB EXCLUSIVE Listen to expanded inter views of police officers describing how they use mindfulness in the heat of the moment at mindful.org/ mindfulpolicing “We believe this training will build resilience—our ability to back down from stress—[and that will] have all sorts of downstream consequences in the community.” Researcher Matthew Hunsinger 68 mindful August 2017 community