Under intense scrutiny and heightened political pressure, officers' stress levels are at an all time high.
“Officers these days are just trying to prove they can do the job well,” said Jeff Tudor, retired San Leandro Police Chief. “They want to do the job well for themselves, their families and their communities that expect them to.”
Tudor created the San Leandro police department’s wellness program that now includes a mental training element focused on training the brain to be calm and relaxed under pressure, which he says can make the difference between panic and rational decision making in the most critical situations. The concept of responding instead of reacting is important for officers to implement in the field.
Unsurprisingly, stress and burnout are increasingly common in departments across the country. Too often, Tudor says, officers get the mental health resources they need after a critical incident has occurred and usually only to clear them to return to work.
“Having the skill and training to just breathe and the ability to tell yourself to remain calm in the heat of a chase or while you wait for cover is the kind of resilience that’s necessary for an officer,” Tudor said.
That’s where mental training comes in. Neuroscience has proven the brain’s plasticity extends to states of mind. With the help of neurofeedback, a way to measure brain states, Tudor has found an avenue to help officers train their brains to stay calm and focused under pressure.
The brain training device he uses, a wearable headband called FocusCalm, uses neurofeedback to quantify your brain state and reports a score back to you. Through meditations and games, the device builds new neural pathways in the brain, training the mind to enter a focused and calm state on demand.
Inherently understanding the value of mental health and mindfulness, Tudor admits he’s in the minority of the law enforcement field.
“Meditation and mindfulness don’t have a lot of buy-in from the tough guys on the SWAT team,” Tudor said. He’s making it his mission to change that.
He finds the device is also useful for mental health maintenance and coping with the demands of the job.
“It doesn’t feel like work. It’s gamified and a challenge, that’s how my mind’s wired so it’s actually fun and not a chore.”