The Mindful Officer:  How Aware are You?

How to see through the distractions that cloud our perception & attain true situational awareness

By Shawn Perron  |   Jul 19, 2016
Master your craft and make no mistake: Your craft is people.

How aware are you (on duty and off)? Have you ever even asked yourself that question? I mean we are trained observers, right? In theory we are expected to have heightened levels of awareness of self and at least our surroundings. Given the current state of our countries sentiment, and the unprovoked targeting of police officers, simply because we wear a uniform, you have all the more reason to ask yourself these questions.

What Is Mindfulness?

You’ll learn a lot about yourself and with some simple mindfulness techniques you can begin to improve your moment to moment awareness. We can often feel exhausted, or somewhat “scrambled” in the brain after a busy night with the criminal element of your community and each other as well. Then we try go home to our families and attempt to perform duties as husbands or wives, as mommies and daddies, and so forth. We sometimes can have difficulty in making that transition. We don’t always choose healthy alternatives to accelerate that transition.

Following are some the “speed bumps” that effect our awareness which is directly related to your safety and performance at work as well as at home.

What it is: Mindfulness directly relates to your level of awareness and safety. Mindfulness is the term best used with cops, since most would stop reading immediately if terms like meditation or yoga were used.  Mindfulness can be defined as non-judgmental (paying attention on purpose) moment to moment awareness.

If you actually try you will notice that most of our lives are spent doing the opposite of that. In our culture, in fact, we’re taught our whole lives to avoid the present moment. Be honest with yourself: Consider how much time you worry about the past or live in anxiety about the future. What does that accomplish?

So to start simply try notice how much your mind wonders. Minds wander—that’s the nature of the human mind! But when you notice your attention wandering, just bring it back to what’s in front of you.

How much of your tour do you spend patrolling your district, as you have done day after day for years? Where is your awareness most of the time? Are you actually in your patrol car? Are you driving? What are your thoughts focused on? Were you in your mind at home? At the ballpark watching your son’s game in your mind? Your daughter’s dance recital?

In each of these instances, we are much less aware of what’s going on in front of us or our immediate surroundings. If you can relate, that just means is you’re normal! Don’t be too hard on yourself. We can improve: By continually bringing the mind or its focus back to “now.” Simply anchor yourself in present by taking a few deep breaths. This will help.

Simplify: Don’t make mindfulness complicated. It’s very simple to practice (simple doesn’t always mean easy). You already do this at many times each day anyway. When a tone goes out on the radio, or officers ask for more units, and you can hear the stress in his or her voice—boom! Your mind is shot back to the present, and you’re immediately aware and brought to the task at hand.

Now try doing this yourself every so often. Each time you get into or out of your car is a great time to for being present. Just take a few deep breaths and try to make a habit of doing this. How about every time you activate your overheads? There are literally thousands of cues or triggers you can use to help you practice mindfulness. You will get better with time. That is why we call it practicing mindfulness, because it takes practice!

Bottom line: One seldom masters constant awareness or self-realization over a lifetime.

Keep curious: We often become conditioned to be the opposite of curious. Usually, the eldest field training officer teaches us how to put blinders on. So we need to “unlearn” methods of turning awareness off.

Think of how curious we were as children or rookie cops. We wanted to be everywhere at once. In law enforcement we even have a name for it, and it’s perhaps our biggest enemy: complacency.  A lot of the work we do is, well, less than enjoyable. Boring even. Some of the folks we work with can be annoying. We might wish we had other people with whom to work. While this is natural, it’s also part of the problem. Again, we seek to avoid what is in favor of what we wish.

Conclusion

Mindfulness isn’t a secret. It’s a practice—the practice of staying awake to the reality of the moment. And it takes practice, but I’m convinced that police officers who incorporate it into their lives, as I have, will be happier and healthier, and better cops.