Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Daily Meditation and the Sri Lankan Police Force

I was fascinated when it was reported, back in February 2017, the Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara, had ordered all police personnel to meditate before commencing their daily work duties. Apparently the Police Chief's objective was to introduce meditation as a means to improve service delivery and law enforcement; to address spiritual development within the force; and to help overcome mental health issues such as depression.

A daily schedule of meditation at all police stations across the island has been introduced for all employees between 8.30am and 8.45am daily.  They are ordered to undertake at least 15 minutes of anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) followed by metta (loving kindness) meditation to start the day.

Some would say it is timely move given the Sri Lankan police department's reputation for corruption and ongoing reports of police brutality and violence since the end of the civil war.

However, Sri Lanka is by no means leading in the area of meditation in law enforcement. In fact, Sri Lanka appears to be lagging behind other countries that have adopted this much earlier. It could be seen as somewhat ironic given Sri Lanka's ancient lineage of Buddhist meditation. But, better late than never as they say.

Now why would police and military forces around the world be interested in meditation? 

Good question.

It seems that meditation and mindfulness practices are changing law enforcement one breath at a time.

It may have something to do with an experiment that was undertaken back in 1993 in Washington DC in which more than 4,000 practitioners of transcendental meditation meditated over an eight-week period to help lower the crime rate in the area. According to published results, certain crimes (i.e. homicides, rapes and assaults) dropped significantly during the period the experiment was undertaken.

But it's not all about crime rate reductions.

In fact, the primary focus has shifted to police officer welfare and wellbeing. Police work often involves shift work; dealing with volatile situations involving emotional victims or angry criminals; exposure to disturbing crime scenes emotional and often facing highly stressful situations. This often results in police officers experiencing insomnia, anxiety, stress, hostility, depression and other mental disorders.

Studies on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been very positive, including the reduction in stress and anger in the police force. It can also improve attention on-the-job; decrease police hostility and violence; regulate emotions, enhance compassion; and improve decision-making. This in turn improves overall policing.

Hillsboro Police Department is one of many police departments in America that has introduced a meditation training program for police officers. At the core of the program is ten practical ways meditation and mindfulness can improve with policing. Tempe Police in Arizona is using meditation as part of their police officer development.

The Brazilian police force is another example. A year before the last Olympic Games was held in Rio de Janeiro, a group of 400 elite police officers from the city's police force undertook a course in Transcendental Meditation to prevent stress-induced burnout. The Chief of Staff of the military police in Rio, Colonel Robson Rodrigues was quoted in a newspaper as saying:
A policeman that is less stressed will have better capacity to make decisions and will fire less during an operation.”

An Indian Police Chief encourages meditation and daily yoga to improve behavior and police culture, so much so, he has introduced the option for staff to take the time for meditation training with full pay and allowances.

The Greater Manchester police offers meditation and mindfulness training sessions to staff - "one encouraging “focus on the breath” and the other deep relaxation" - to stem growing levels of anxiety and depression; and to combat absenteeism and stress across the 11,000-strong police force.

Canadian police officers from Ontario's Peel Regional Police have even attended a Buddhist temple for a lecture and workshop on mindfulness meditation and Buddhist philosophy.

To deal with violence in schools, 600 Mexican police officers who work in Mexico City's School Security Units in the capital gathered for a training session in the art of Chinese meditation. These police officers work with thousands of public and private schools throughout Mexico City to combat drugs and gang activity, as well as supporting students who are being bullied or harassed. The result of the event was reported as positive.

So there is a growing precedence for meditation in law enforcement and it appears to be transforming the personal and working lives of police personnel.

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Interestingly, there are regular meditation programs held for military personnel including the Sri Lankan army, navy and air force. This is seen as positive as it has been found that meditation can help to build resilience in military personnel, not to mention hep with PTSD and other mental illnesses. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2014) found that the heart and breathing rates of mindful US Marines returned to normal faster than those of the control group members after exposure to stress.
It's still early days for the Sri Lankan police force following the introduction of their island-wide daily meditation program, however, a recent article indicated "the Sri Lanka police department is experiencing a steep decline in crimes committed within the institution" signalling, if true,  a possible slide in corruption within the force.

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