To Pause and Protect

In a groundbreaking program, Oregon police officers are learning mindfulness techniques to deal with stress, be more focused on the job, and connect more meaningfully with the people they serve.

“We are so impacted by the toxicity of our profession,” says Lieutenant Richard Goerling of the Hillsboro Police Department in Oregon, “so consumed by our jobs, we don’t know what to do.” Photographs by Mark Mahaney

On a Tuesday afternoon this spring, nearly two dozen cops from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, ambled into foreign territory: a yoga studio. They were here for a unique course in mindfulness, one that proponents say could help transform policing.

As they settled in, they joked and jabbed with the ease of colleagues who have worked together for years. They piled up mats and pillows with the excessiveness of those who haven’t spent much time in savasana, some building nests that looked like La-Z-Boys.

On one side of the room sat an officer who recently had to confront a man hacking down a door with a Japanese sword—he was fighting off imaginary attackers. On the other side of the room was a former Marine sniper who had served in Iraq, with a haloed grim reaper tattooed on his arm.

Now, in this peaceful room, with the daylight dimmed by mauve curtains, these members of the Hillsboro Police Department were being asked to contemplate a raisin.

“Press on the raisin,” the instructor said in a soothing monotone. “Is it soft, rough, or smooth? Is there a stickiness?”

Everyone was engaging mindfully with their raisin—or so…

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About the author

Maureen O'Hagan

Maureen O'Hagan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Seattle Times reporter.