A year after slayings, Dallas police train in ‘mindfulness’

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Only hours after the ambush that killed five Dallas law enforcement officers, mental health experts began thinking ahead, searching for ways to ease the long-term effects of the attack on the men and women who patrol the nation's ninth-largest city.

Police psychologists in Dallas were quickly joined by counselors from the Houston and Los Angeles police departments, the FBI and the federal air marshals service. As she watched the July 7, 2016, assault unfold on the news, Dallas philanthropist Lyda Hill immediately thought of research she had funded to help returning combat veterans. Maybe it could help police too.

A year later, Dallas officers are still grieving, but scores of them have received or are on track to receive specialized training in "mindfulness" and other stress-management techniques that aim to teach police how to better understand and control their emotions, both on and off the job.

"One of the most powerful things you can do is teach people that it's OK to be human. It's not possible to walk through this profession and come out unscarred. It's a difficult, difficult walk to be a police officer," said Richard Goerling, a police lieutenant in Hillsboro, Oregon, who teaches the mindfulness training.

The late-night ambush happened during a downtown protest against police brutality. A black Army veteran seeking revenge for police shootings elsewhere that killed or wounded black men opened fire on the officers, killing four from the Dallas Police Department and another from a transit agency.

By early the next morning, the sniper, Micah Johnson, was dead, killed after police deployed a bomb-carrying robot.

A month later, then-Police Chief David Brown told the Dallas City Council that he planned to increase the mental health services available for officers.

Brown, who is now retired, remembered taking a call from the Oakland, California, police chief, whose department had also endured the killing of more than one officer in the line of duty. The Oakland chief emphasized the importance of offering mental health services.

Officers "may not seek it out right away, but it's a long-term impact on people," Brown said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Hill provided money to pay for instruction in mindfulness and in another system known as cognitive training for 500 Dallas officers over the next year. The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas plans to study the effects of the training on their mental and physical health and their job performance.

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