Tactical wellness? E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

Getting cops to take better care of themselves emotionally is a little bit like trying to get blood from a stone. It's not that cops don't understand how important mental health is to their survival, both on the job and afterwards. They know only too well that more police officers die by their own hand each year than are killed by assailants. Cops also have higher rates of divorce and alcoholism than people in other fields. In addition police officers are statistically more likely than non-law enforcement to commit acts of domestic violence. According to a recent article in the Portland Tribune, Richard Goerling is on a mission to change all that.

The veteran Hillsboro police officer and U.S. Coast Guard reservist is determined to help his colleagues improve their mental health or "emotional wellness." But Goerling knows exactly what he's up against.

Hollywood and old-timey police culture are tough to circumnavigate. In buddy cop films like Lethal Weapon, the psychiatrist is almost always a touchy-feeley liberal type that should be avoided at all costs.

Even today there still lots of cops that believe law enforcement personnel are somehow different than the rest of us humans. No amount of blood, loss, violent death or any of the things that cop see on the job could ever justify reaching out for help in the minds of some.

That would be "admitting weakness." So how do we get past all that? Goerling's idea is nothing short of genius. Sometimes what you call something makes all the difference.

"Call anything 'tactical' and cops will do it," Goerling told reporters. Goerling has written a groundbreaking curriculum called Mindfulness Based Resilience Training. He describes the concept to police officers as "tactical wellness." Some might find that term a little strange. But if you look at a random police magazine or website you can see ads for "tactical" socks, pens and coffee.

Goerling's program will take officers to the yoga mat, the treadmill, the phlebotomy lab and beyond to soothe their souls and sharpen their minds so they can better handle situations like a string of challenging incidents recently. Last winter, Hillsboro police endured a standoff in Forest Grove in which one of their own officers allegedly shot at officers from three Washington County agencies.

Then they had to weather the sudden exit of the department's former chief, Carey Sullivan, in March. In addition the officers are waiting on resolutions of three major labor complaints and a lawsuit aimed at the city by the police union in April.

Things have a way of stacking up and the series of unfortunate events have left the rank-and-file in a collective funk according to a survey released last month by interim Chief Ron Louie.

"It's been a challenging time," Goerling told reporters with the Portland Tribune. "We need cops who are well, because they'll perform better during encounters with the public, whether or not they have to use force. We have to lead forward - away from where we are."

And it looks like the inclusion of the term "tactical" worked. Twenty-five officers are registered for the initial series of classes, which have already started. Goerling says he knows there will be some jokes along with resistance from the macho types but he's convinced it's worth the effort.

Officer Marth Bual gets what Goerning is trying to do and appreciates the opportunity to get help avoiding some of the off-duty pitfalls of police work.

"At the end of my career, I don't want to be that guy whose wife left him and whose daughter hates his guts," he said. "For the sake of my job, and for the sake of my family, I have to find that balance."


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