How Mindfulness Is Changing Law Enforcement
From Greater Good, UC Berkeley
By Jill Suttie
Meditation is helping police officers to de-escalate volatile situations, improve community relations—and improve their own well-being.
Twenty police officers dressed in sweats and T-shirts lunge on bent knees, arms stretched toward the ceiling. Some are visibly straining as the teacher instructs them to notice their discomfort and to keep breathing. These men and women in El Cerrito, California, are learning new skills, but not ones we typically associate with policing. Instead, they are learning mindfulness—moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Dave Hartlung and colleagues in the El Cerrito police department learning to cultivate moment-to-moment awareness of their feelings and surroundings.Jill Suttie
Lieutenant Dave Hartung is one of the officers. He’s nearing retirement, and is concerned about statistics he’s heard about survival rates for retired police—a post-job life expectancy of 10 years on average, he says. He talks about his son in Special Operations in the military who has practiced mindfulness for seven years.
“I’ve always been amazed that, even with his job and the things he’s been exposed to, how super healthy he is,” says Hartung. “I’ve decided I’ve got to learn this stuff.”
Two men are leading the training: Oregon police officer Richard Goerling and Brian Shiers, a mindfulness facilitator from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. They combine mindful awareness practices—like mindful breathing and body scanning—with information about the science behind those techniques, making a case for their use in policing.