By: Adrian Smith
New recruits from Ontario’s Peel Regional Police attended a lecture on mindfulness last month at the West End Buddhist temple in Mississauga. Bhante Saranapala, or the ‘urban city monk,’ as Toronto’s youth call him, led two dozen or so rookies in a guided meditation after speaking about the impact it could have on their job performance, their lives, and the lives of the citizens they serve to protect.
“Part of the training we do with our new recruits is take them to a place of worship,” Sgt. Lori Bleshok, an officer from the Diversity Relations department informed me. “It could be the Buddhist temple; it could be one of the gurdwaras; it could be a mosque; it could be a synagogue—we take them there for an afternoon experience so that they can ask questions, and learn to understand different cultures and religions.” The new move seems a likely reaction to police officers, not only in Canada, but also all over the world being seen in a negative light, due to the carelessness and violent behavior of those few who have taken advantage of their power.
What if these officers had the capacity to show enough concern to speak up when their peers behaved maliciously? What if they’d been given the tools to consciously hold themselves accountable, not just as enforcers of the law but as human beings?
An incident in 2013 saw Maria Farrell, a 49-year-old Tim Horton’s employee, get badly beaten by a police officer, resulting in ‘catastrophic’ injures, including a broken leg. Farrell was kicked and sucker punched by OPP Sgt. Russell Watson after trying to point the officer in the direction of the man who had assaulted a woman in the restaurant. While Farrell screamed in pain, the officer handcuffed her and threw her in a police cruiser for arrest. She was charged with assaulting a police officer. Similarly, in 2011, an OPP constable found Jim Manley, a homeless aboriginal man, loitering in a local plaza in Red Lake. Instead of simply writing him a ticket, which the officer did anyways, he drove Manley several kilometers out of town, leaving him to walk back in near freezing temperatures.
Mindfulness will encourage officers to take a step back and show patience in a heated situation, instead of quickly getting frustrated and resorting to violence.
Mindfulness promotes kindness, empathy, and compassion. Having officers like the one who attacked Farrell take part in meditation can help change the way they respond to such incidents in the future. Mindfulness will encourage them to take a step back and show patience in a heated situation, instead of quickly getting frustrated and resorting to violence. According to statistics from Cop Crisis, police officers killed 1,297 Americans in 2014. That number rose to 1,307 in 2015, and already in 2016, we’ve had 368 cop killings in the U.S., with that number only rising. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 43 percent of cops claim “always following the rules is not compatible with getting the job done,” 52 percent say it is not unusual for a police officer to turn the blind eye to improper conduct of other officers, 61 percent of officers say they do not always report serious abuse by fellow officers, and 84 percent say they have witnessed fellow officers using more force than necessary to resolve a situation.
“Police deal with the most negative stories of society—negative people”
What if these officers had the capacity to show enough concern to speak up when their peers behaved maliciously? What if they’d been given the tools to consciously hold themselves accountable, not just as enforcers of the law but as human beings? Incorporating mindfulness will not just be beneficial for officers in their day-to-day struggle with the demands of their work—it will help make them more compassionate and patient with the citizens they interact with, which could result in less senseless killing and violent reactions that escalate into deathly situations.
“Police deal with the most negative stories of society—negative people,” Saranapala explained when I asked him how mindfulness can help these officers. “If you’re not strong inside, the external negativities are going to consume you. They’re going to eat you up because you keep thinking about those things. Those thoughts all come from the past, a lot of negative stories from the past. They struggle letting them go, they’re keeping them.”
Jon Carson, an officer at York Regional Police had already been implementing mindfulness into his department’s curriculums after spending six months as a “closet meditator” and finding positive changes in his life and in his work. He approached his organization about teaching mindfulness to other officers and even met with Lt. Goerling at a conference in Seattle to speak about how mindfulness can be implemented within the police force. His department partnered with Mindfulness Without Borders, which teaches breathing exercises that reduce stress, anxieties, and go over strategies to notice emotional triggers, as well as a number of skills to reduce reactivity and build resilience to trying situations.
It’s reassuring knowing Toronto’s police care enough to better themselves in order to better their relationship with the community through their work. In the end, implementing mindfulness into their duties will prove to be as much a tool for these officers as any other provided on their belts.