Mindful Policing: The Future of Force

With police violence in the news, and public scrutiny on the rise, cities turn to mindfulness to help officers deal with the stress of the job.

Photographs by McNair Evans

You guys ready for a technique?” the trainer asks. “Everybody, sit up straight. Uncross your legs. Just look straight ahead.”

Eric White gathers his 6-foot-8 frame and straightens his back in the conference-room chair. Instead of his usual police uniform, he wears a blue polo shirt and jeans. The trainer, Don Chartrand, is visiting Emeryville, California, to talk with officers here about how to reduce their stress and build resilience with exercises like intentional breathing. “This is not anything weird,” he promises. “This is absolutely science-based.” Cops appreciate evidence, he knows, and so Chartrand has come equipped with PowerPoint graphs and lessons about heart-rate variability, the stress hormone cortisol, and how to keep the autonomous nervous system in balance.

Chartrand reassures the 18 officers that his goal is practical: boosting their performance on the beat. “It’s not about going to your happy place. This is not la-la lightweight nonsense,” he says. “I’m serious: This is blood and guts, sometimes life and death.”

He directs them to place their hands over their hearts. Some comply more eagerly than others. “Use your imagination,” he says. “It’ll sound weird. Pay attention to your breath. And imagine that the breath…


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About the author

Barry Yeoman

Barry Yeoman is an award-winning magazine journalist who specializes in narratives about complex social issues. He has written for Parade, The Saturday Evening Post, The New New South, Sunset, and The Nation, among many others.