Introducing Mindfulness Training and Research Into Policing: Strategies for Successful Implementation

Introducing Mindfulness Training and Research Into Policing: Strategies for Successful Implementation

Daniel W. Grupe (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA), Chris Smith (Academy for Mindfulness, LLC, USA) and Chad McGehee (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6820-0.ch007
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The introduction of mindfulness practices into law enforcement has the potential for broad benefits for police officers and community members alike, but the impact of this work depends on careful consideration of contextual factors specific to conducting research and training in this population and environment. This chapter provides an overview of the authors' experiences over the past five years adapting, delivering, and studying the impact of mindfulness training in a Midwestern U.S. police agency. The authors detail strategies and practices that have proved beneficial in the implementation and uptake of this training. Themes that are addressed include developing diverse and meaningful partnerships, preparing outside researchers and trainers to work in a police context, adapting mindfulness for policing, and logistical issues. Key considerations for the future of mindfulness in policing include the challenge of widespread implementation and expanding the focus of research and training to encompass community well-being.
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Introduction And Background

American policing in the year 2021 is in a crisis situation, although the nature of this crisis looks quite different depending on one’s standpoint1. For those outside of policing committed to racial justice and equity, the crisis is defined (in part) by a toxic and dysfunctional police culture that predictably and repeatedly results in acts of aggression, violence, and discrimination against Black individuals and other people of color or marginalized groups. Rejecting the “few bad apples” argument, these critics instead suggest that the barrel itself is rotten and needs to be replaced for policing to serve its stated role of protecting humanity, justice, and democracy. Individuals within the institution have been increasingly drawing attention to a different crisis, that of police mental health. Daily exposure to direct and vicarious trauma, which occurs against a backdrop of chronic organizational stress and increasing levels of community distrust and criticism (Morin, Parker, Stepler, & Mercer, 2017), contributes to elevated rates of posttraumatic stress, depression, alcoholism, and suicide in police officers relative to the general public (Ballenger et al., 2011; “Blue H.E.L.P.,” 2020; Carleton et al., 2017; Chopko, Palmieri, & Adams, 2018; Violanti et al., 2017). Current public discourse allows little space to endorse both crises as legitimate concerns that both need immediate and drastic action.

What appear to be completely separate crises, however, are intimately and in some ways inextricably linked. Among the core police cultural changes that are needed are alternatives to the maladaptive and toxic emotion regulation strategies that are endemic to the profession. Values of masculinity, stoicism, self-sufficiency, and emotional control spread through cultural transmission and become internalized as officers increasingly identify with the profession (Karaffa & Tochkov, 2013; Pogrebin & Poole, 1995). Police training emphasizes maintaining control above all else, but attempts to control or suppress emotions and other internal experiences lead to negative psychological outcomes (Gross & John, 2003). Officers who attempt to deal with inner turmoil and crisis on their own deny themselves both effective mental health care and the social support that is critical for staving off PTSD, depression, and suicide (Ozbay et al., 2007; Pietrzak et al., 2010; Yuan et al., 2011). The fatigue, burnout, and hypervigilance that emerge in the absence of effective coping strategies all contribute to aggressive and discriminatory policing practices (Goff & Rau, 2020; Kop, Euwema, & Schaufeli, 1999; Ma et al., 2013; Rajaratnam et al., 2011). These practices exacerbate distrust and anger toward the police institution and individual officers who wear the uniform – especially among communities of color who have been traumatized and oppressed by police officers throughout the history of the American institution (Earl & Reynolds-Stenson, 2020) – which in turn further calcifies officers’ “us vs. them” mentality, and so on and so forth.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural Humility: A lifelong process of understanding the experiences of individuals from other cultural backgrounds that is grounded in deep reflection and examination of how one’s beliefs and experiences are shaped by one’s own cultural identities.

Mindfulness: Paying attention to sensations, emotions, and thoughts in a particular way: 1) as they unfold in the present moment, 2) on purpose, and 3) with acceptance rather than judgment (or, at least, with awareness of the judgments that are arising).

Contemplative Practices: A term that encompasses a broad array of mind-body practices with their roots in a variety of wisdom-based traditions, including but not limited to mindfulness, other meditation practices, yoga, prayer, and some martial arts (e.g., Tai Chi and Qigong).

Community-Engaged Scholarship: A philosophy of research and teaching that engages community members and groups as equal partners with knowledge and wisdom to share with those in academia, one that emphasizes reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationships rather than the unilateral extraction of information or resources from these communities.

Trauma-Sensitive Practices: Structures, frameworks, and practices that involve understanding, recognizing, and responding to the presence of trauma with specific skills and strategies.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions: A family of related interventions that are grounded in similar didactics and practices to intentionally cultivate greater mindful awareness, but which can have a variety of formats, target populations, or intended outcomes.

Resilience: The ability to quickly recover or bounce back from adversity, considered to be a trait but one that can be intentionally cultivated with practice.

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