DPD Officers Work Mental Muscles With ‘Brain Training’

Monday, February 27, 2017

It’s being called the next frontier of fitness: brain health.

The Dallas police department will partner with the University of Texas at Dallas Center for Brain Health to help officers stay in top mental health as well.

“It’s up here,” says DPD’s Deputy Chief Jeff Cotner, tapping his head for effect. “This emotional wellness that you have to have, the ability to have that critical thinking in very dynamic situations—that is the new frontier.”

As a veteran officer, Chief Cotner knows that split-second decisions can mean life or death, compliments or controversy and a mistake can end a career. Thus on Thursday, Chief Cotner was among the DPD Command Staff now completing training in what’s being called ‘SMART’: Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training.

“Giving them a tool to even think about how do we reframe things that go wrong, how do we look at other perspectives, how do we start to move out of our biases,” says Jennifer Zientz, the Center’s Head of Clinical Services. “The application to this tool is endless.”

During the next 18 months, several hundred front-line officers will go through the training. Officers will work to improve decision-making, judgment and emotional management.

“You don’t go do push-ups and sit-ups on the battlefield… you do push-ups and sit-ups over here, so that you are stronger, and have more strength and endurance and flexibility when you need it,” says Zientz.

On initial appearance, some officers freely admit exercises in ‘deeper thinking’ sound like snake oil. Until you try it.

“It’s legit,” insists Chief Cotner, “you can do it, you can create these pathways of information and they’re there for you when you need it.”

The brain health training is funded through a donation from local philanthropist Lyda Hill.

“Following the devastating day of July 7, 2016, in Dallas, where five law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, I knew I had to do something to help those who take care of us daily,” said Hill in a statement provided by the Center for Brain Health. “I hope this effort gives the Dallas Police Department the foundation it needs to consistently make the brain health of its officers a top priority.”

Chief Cotner says the training will challenge him personally and will be a good thing for the department.

“We’re just on the threshold here,” says Chief Cotner, “but, I believe it’s going to have a tremendous impact on our organization in a positive way… and that policing will adopt to these strategies or something similar to this and were going to learn a lot.”

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