Richard Goerling addresses a room of first responders, prison guards, and military members wearing gym clothes, sitting on yoga mats. “So you’re here for some hippie-bullshit mindfulness training,” he says, reports Pacific Standard magazine.
In a conference-room-turned-meditation center near Portland, Or., Goerling asks everyone to close their eyes and imagine their breath on the tip of their nose.
A police officer himself, Goerling is sensitive to the skepticism that cops might bring to mindfulness. In an eight-hour training, he introduces them to neuroscientific findings on the effects of mindful meditation—how it can lower cortisol, a hormone related to stress—while also teaching them meditation practices.
Goerling is one of a growing number of leaders in law enforcement who envision meditation as part of the future of policing.
Several thousand officers have been trained in cities like Dallas, Boston and Seattle, as well as towns across Oregon, California and Wisconsin. Proponents champion the practice as a way to limit stress, treat the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among police, and even reduce excessive use of force.
“I absolutely believe that mindfulness training is the foundation for any successful police reform and transformation,” Goerling says. “It’s critical.”
Recent studies suggest that mindfulness can reduce stress and curb aggression among law enforcement officers. Many of these studies rely on self-reporting and wishy-washy measurement methods.
When it comes to some of the most violent behavior among police, including incidents associated with racial bias, there is little evidence that meditation makes any difference.
“There is a risk that these kinds of training programs, no matter how well intentioned, will only provide the illusion of police reform rather than getting at the structural forces that drive disrespectful and aggressive over-policing,” says sociologist Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College and author of the book The End of Policing.
Additional Reading; TCR’s Q&A with Alex Vitale