In addition to the daily risk of exposure to acute traumatic events, police officers face high levels of chronic organizational stressors and are the object of much public scrutiny and criticism. These stressors can have an erosive effect on physical and mental well-being, as police officers face elevated rates of cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many officers, however, exhibit tremendous resilience in the face of extreme occupational stress. What are the factors that allow for such resilience, and can we train and cultivate these skills and qualities of mind in other officers?
In collaboration with the Madison Police Department (MPD), Center scientists are embarking on a new line of research that investigates the impact of a mindfulness-based training program – which has been adapted specifically for law enforcement personnel – on a variety of outcomes including sleep quality, perceived stress, psychological symptoms, burnout and inflammatory biomarkers.
We have begun an initial pilot study in which we are assessing the feasibility and acceptability of this training within the MPD, and collecting initial data on these stress-related outcomes. Pending future funding, we plan to follow up this pilot study with a larger randomized controlled trial, which will allow us to rigorously test this program’s efficacy, evaluate long-term follow-up measures and investigate additional outcomes directly related to officers’ daily work.
By equipping officers with practical tools to proactively combat stress and enhance well-being, we believe this program will allow officers to serve more effectively as community guardians, resulting in cascading benefits throughout the communities these officers serve. Working closely with the MPD, a national leader in progressive policing initiatives, we hope to establish a model program for other municipalities to follow, and make a meaningful contribution to larger national efforts to reform policing for the 21st century.