“It’s not an old-fashioned if you leave out the bitters.”
Mindfulness and Police, two words that don’t often go together, yet the potential benefits if they do are almost limitless. Google “mindfulness police”, and the only meaningful results talk about Lt. Richard Goerling from Oregon, USA who introduced mindfulness to his force seven years ago. There’s nothing though within the UK. Well that may just be about to change.
Whilst these are personal views, the more people I have spoken with the more I discover others share the view that there is not only a place for, but a need for, mindfulness in policing.
Policing is a profession that has a combination of characteristics that makes it unique. We constantly feel under scrutiny, quite rightly, but our press tends to be bad regardless of performance. Even when an officer does what they think is right, they are often criticised by someone. It can be difficult, and if you add the stresses of dealing with conflict and death on a daily basis, it becomes even more demoralising. Yet beneath all of this, policing is a service that is about people, not only the ones we serve and protect from harm, but also internally as individuals, in all ranks of the police. They face the same difficulties in life as everyone else, yet are expected to put these aside.
Research conducted into rape allegations in Scandinavia speaks of a phenomenon known as “victim worthiness”. This means that if we as people, believe the victim is worthy of our attention, then we give more to that individual. It is my belief that many of our interactions are affected by this phenomenon, yet mindfulness provides a path to a more compassionate style across all interactions, and victim worthiness becomes less important. Realising that deep down, probably unconsciously, one is acting in this way, then it very much brings the emotion into conscious realisation, improving every aspect of the interaction including gathering evidence, and the person’s view of their police service.
But the need to have an awareness of one’s fears is equally important and another situation in which mindfulness assists us. Although these fears would clearly involve an officer in a conflict situation with someone intent on causing the officer harm, a different type of fear, but fear nonetheless, is experienced by police leaders. Making an unpopular decision amongst our officers, or making a decision that may receive public criticism, or one that may backfire and cause our bosses to question our ability; these are all things that unnecessarily cloud our better judgment when we are not aware of these fears. Without this awareness, the fear drives the decision rather than potentially uncovering or implementing something that may cause us individually to suffer, but is nonetheless the right decision.
Being able to intervene in one’s own stress and anxiety, and maintain a watch on one’s own emotions can play a significant part in each and every part of our lives. Home life and work are inextricably linked, these skills matter in both.
If ever there is a need for finding a mindful way of living…then policing must be it. It is not just front line officers, the need is across all roles and ranks, and is of equal importance to improving leadership qualities. I say this from my personal experience. Reflecting on my police career, I realise I have made mistakes for the reasons above.
Bubbles are appearing across policing where people are beginning to talk about mindfulness, the quicker these bubbles rise to the surface and police forces can offer mindfulness training to those who want it, the quicker we can impact our own lives, and those we serve and protect from harm in a more compassionate, fulfilling way.