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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Officer safety and wellness continues to be one of the most important issues in policing. As a result, the interest in building officer resiliency to stress is growing and has led to major initiatives in most police departments (Andersen et. al 2015). To combat officer stress, researchers and practitioners have begun exploring the stress-reducing benefits of exercise (Gerber et. al. 2010), coping skills programs (Anshel and Brinthaupt 2014), and automatic stress response interventions (Ramey et. al. 2016). More recently, however, researchers and law enforcement have begun to explore another groundbreaking initiative to combat officer stress and build resiliency: the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as “moment to moment, nonreactive, nonjudgmental awareness” (Kabat-Zinn 2002). While mindfulness can be cultivated in a variety of ways, the most common method to achieve mindfulness is through the practice of meditation (Brostoff 2017). Mindfulness meditation encourages individuals to remain intentionally present with their thoughts while building an open-minded relationship with them. As a result, through mindfulness, individuals are more aware of “automatic thoughts” and less likely to overreact or be overwhelmed by them, potentially reducing stress, anxiety, and in some cases, depression.
Due in large part to these anticipated benefits, mindfulness has been the subject of a cultural and research boom within the last few years (Stanley et. al 2006; Karunamuni and Weerasekera 2016). IBISWORLD, a market research company, estimates that in 2016, mindfulness-based business and apps generated roughly $1.1 billion in revenue (Scott 2017). Mindfulness has quickly become a part of pop culture as well. Television, film, and media have also quickly adopted mindfulness, most recently in the documentary Walk with Me, narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Additionally, empirical research has maintained pace.
Coinciding with the rise of mindfulness in popular culture, research on mindfulness continues to grow, displaying impressive results supporting mindfulness-based interventions (Shapiro 2009). Mindfulness has been associated with reductions in anxiety (Hoge et. al. 2013), inflammation (Rosenkranz et. al. 2013), and even addiction behaviors (Garland, Froeliger, and Howard 2014). The literature on the effects of mindfulness on first responders and military personnel has been equally strong. Rice and Liu (2016) found increases in mindfulness were associated with increases in attention for military personnel and veterans. King et al. (2016) found mindfulness-based exposure therapy to be associated with reduced PTSD symptoms. These findings continue to echo other research on mindfulness and its positive association with stress-based symptoms.
Similarly, evidence is mounting on the effectiveness of mindfulness on police officers. Chopko and Schwartz (2013) found that mindfulness was associated with less severe PTSD intrusion for police officers. Specifically, they note “increased nonjudgmental acceptance appears to be a primary correlate of reduced posttraumatic stress symptoms among . . . police officers” (7). Kaplan et al. (2017) found that increased mindfulness was related to increased resilience and decreased burnout among police officers. When utilizing a Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training program on officers, Christopher et al (2016) found self-reported mindfulness to be associated with increased resilience and emotional intelligence and decreased negative health outcomes among police officers.
Local police departments have been active partners in the mindfulness movement, as well. For instance, Hillsboro (OR) Police Department Lieutenant Richard Goerling believes that mindfulness could be a critical tool in dealing with officer safety and wellness. He states, “. . . awareness and compassion are the gateway to performance, not just for police officers but any human being, but especially for police officers” (Kelly 2017). Sylvia Moir, Chief of the Tempe Police Department has also implemented a mindfulness-based program as a part of officer training. According to Moir, “In policing, it’s essential that we respond. We don’t react. . . . Without a doubt I think the [meditation] practice shows promise, getting us to be present, not take triggers, not take the bait that makes us react and if the practice can get us to see the perspective of another to enhance our compassion, then I think it does lend itself to broader application in policing” (Effron 2017). These police departments recognize locally what research has been finding globally. The practice of mindfulness may not be a cure-all, but the evidence is promising and, at a minimum, should be considered for high-stress occupations such as policing.
Today, mindfulness research is continuing to grow through increasingly sophisticated methods, such as conducting fMRI brain scans to show how the brain is changing because of mindfulness-based practices. More and more companies are also adopting mindfulness-based programs; most notably, Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. However, and most encouragingly, police departments and the field of law enforcement continue to be thought leaders in embracing this intervention as a potential best practice. As a result, police chiefs have been partnering with mindfulness-based research organizations and even attending conferences to further their practice and implementation into their own departments. And while the practice of mindfulness is not a “silver bullet” for officer stress, it could be a potentially valuable tool in the fight going forward.
John H. Kim
Social Science Analyst (COPS)
Andersen, Judith P., Konstantinos Papazoglou, Bengt B. Arnetz, and Peter Collins. 2015. “Mental Preparedness as a Pathway to Police Resilience and Optimal Functioning in the Line of Duty.” International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience 17 (3): 624-627.
Anshel, Mark H., and Thomas M. Brinthaupt. 2014. “An Exploratory Study on the Effect of an Approach-Avoidance Coping Program on Perceived Stress and Physical Energy among Police Officers.” Psychology 5 (7): 676.
Brostoff, Teresa K. 2017. “Meditation for Law Students: Mindfulness Practice as Experiential Learning.” Law and Psychology Review 41, 159-171.
Chopko, Brian A., and Robert C. Schwartz. 2013. “The Relation between Mindfulness and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms among Police Officers.”Journal of Loss and Trauma 18 (1): 1-9.
Christopher, Michael S., Richard J. Goerling, Brant S. Rogers, Matthew Hunsinger, Greg Baron, Aaron L. Bergman, and David T. Zava. 2016. “A Pilot Study Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Cortisol Awakening Response and Health Outcomes among Law Enforcement Officers.” Journal of police and criminal psychology 31 (1): 15-28.
Effron, Lauren .2017. “Arizona Police Chief Says Meditation Should Be a Key Piece of Officer Development.” ABC News. March 8, 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/arizona-police-chief-meditation-key-piece-officer-development/story?id=45966480.
Garland, Eric, Brett Froeliger, and Matthew Howard. 2014. “Mindfulness Training Targets Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Addiction at the Attention-Appraisal-Emotion Interface.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 4: 173.
Gerber, Markus, Michael Kellmann, Tim Hartmann, and Uwe Pühse. 2010. “Do Exercise and Fitness Buffer against Stress among Swiss Police and Emergency Response Service Officers?.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 11 (4): 286-294.
Hoge, Elizabeth A., Eric Bui, Luana Marques, Christina A. Metcalf, Laura K. Morris, Donald J. Robinaugh, John J. Worthington, Mark H. Pollack, and Naomi M. Simon. 2013. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 74 (8): 786.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 2002. “Meditation Is about Paying Attention.” Reflections 3 (3): 68-71.
Kaplan, Joshua Benjamin, Aaron L. Bergman, Michael Christopher, Sarah Bowen, and Matthew Hunsinger. 2017. “Role of Resilience in Mindfulness Training for First Responders.” Mindfulness 2017: 1-8.
Karunamuni, Nandini, and Rasanjala Weerasekera. 2017. “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom.” Current Psychology 2017: 1-20.
Kelly, Kevin. 2017. “Menlo Park Police Officers will be Trained to Mellow.” The Mercury News. January 31, 2017. http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/01/26/menlo-park-police-officers-will-be-trained-to-mellow/.
King, Anthony P., Stefanie R. Block, Rebecca K. Sripada, Sheila AM Rauch, Katherine E. Porter, Todd K. Favorite, Nicholas Giardino, and Israel Liberzon. 2016. “A Pilot Study of Mindfulness-Based Exposure Therapy in OEF/OIF Combat Veterans with PTSD: Altered Medial Frontal Cortex and Amygdala Responses in Social-Emotional Processing.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 7.
Rice, Valerie J., and Baoxia Liu. 2017. “The Relationship Between Sustained Attention and Mindfulness Among US Active Duty Service Members and Veterans.” Advances in Social and Occupational Ergonomics. (Basel: Springer International Publishing) 397-407.
Scott, Bartie. 2017. “Why Meditation and Mindfulness Training Is One of the Best Industries for Starting a Business in 2017.” Inc. March 1, 2017. https://www.inc.com/bartie-scott/best-industries-2017-meditation-and-mindfulness-training.html.
Shapiro, Shauna L. 2009. “The Integration of Mindfulness and Psychology.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 65 (6): 555-560.
Stanley, Sheila, Lorraine R. Reitzel, LaRicka R. Wingate, Kelly C. Cukrowicz, Elizabeth N. Lima, and Thomas E. Joiner. 2006. “Mindfulness: a Primrose Path for Therapists Using Manualized Treatments?.” Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy 20 (3): 327-335.
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