As many as 200,000 police officers and staff in England and Wales will soon have access to meditation lessons aimed at improving well-being, life satisfaction, resilience, and work performance. The move follows a trial program involving more than 600 officers and staff in five forces, including Avon and Somerset, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and South Wales.
The randomized controlled trial ran for six months and participants who practiced mindfulness experienced “meaningful improvements” in measured criteria, according to researchers.
“This research has produced strong evidence that online mindfulness training can improve the well-being of police employees,” according to a report on the trial. “As a result, the online training course Mindfit Cop has been made available free to all employees . . . the well-being benefits could be reasonably expected to have knock-on effects for productivity and performance.” (The Guardian)
The report, titled “Mindfulness in Policing” was released this month by the College of Policing. It was authored by Helena Fitzhugh of the College of Policing, along with George Michaelides, Sara Connolly, and Kevin Daniels, all from the University of East Anglia.
The trial was run with four hypotheses. The first was that online mindfulness training using the popular app Headspace, developed by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, would improve well-being, life satisfaction, resilience, and performance among police officers and staff. This turned out to be true after the trial with a sampling of subjects carried out at 10 and 24 weeks. Second, researchers thought that the online mindfulness training would reduce sick leave and associated behaviors based on illness. This did not occur according to the results of the trial. Researchers also thought that a specialized program called Mindfit Cop would be more effective than Headspace for police officers and staff. This was not the case. Finally, researchers questioned whether the mindfulness training would be effective in helping people with high levels of job control to structure their work.The trial showed that the training was more helpful to those with low job control.
“Nearly eight million UK adults have now likely tried mindfulness practice, including many thousands of civil servants in Whitehall,” said Jamie Bristow, director of the Mindfulness Initiative and secretary to the all-party parliamentary group on mindfulness. “However, without evidence specific to their departments they have so far been unable to fund widespread training for their colleagues at the coalface of public services. This new research into mindfulness in policing builds on trials conducted recently in health, education, justice, and defense, so we should soon see our frontline workers being offered better access to this important innovation.” (The Guardian)
Similar trials have been run in the United States and Canada with positive effects. As early as 2003, police in the US were working with Buddhist peace activist and author Thich Nhat Hanh to help officers deal with stress and misplaced anger and frustration. That year, Madison, Wisconsin, police captain Cheri Maples invited Thich Nhat Hanh to offer a nonsectarian program aimed at police officers, firefighters, healthcare workers, educators, and others in her community.
Speaking later in a Dharma talk, Maples described the erratic rise and fall of adrenaline in the daily lives of police officers, “Emotionally, what begins to happen is the effects manifest as irritation and impatience and anger and depression. There’s a very cynical sort of response that develops. Spiritually, the effects of doing the job manifest as an armoring and numbing of the heart. It’s very hard to be compassionate when those things are going on.” (The Mindfulness Bell)
Maples spoke of attending a retreat in 1991 with Thich Nhat Hanh and how her life and practice changed as a result. Reflecting on the need for compassion in policing, Maples quoted African American activist and scholar Cornell West, who said: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” She noted: “How different would our system look if we adopted this definition of justice as the foundation for our whole system?” (The Mindfulness Bell)
Stop and breathe: police staff offered meditation lessons (The Guardian)
What works in wellbeing: a randomised controlled trial of mindfulness in policing (College of Policing)
Mindfulness and the Police By Cheri Maples (The Mindfulness Bell)