Being a first responder is a stressful job and traumatic experiences occur. Even so, first responders must try to maintain clear heads when dealing with emergencies and dangerous individuals. That is why the Utah County Sheriff’s Office is focusing on mindfulness as a means to deal with the pressures of the job.
Last week, the UCSO held a training where all first responders and their spouses were invited to participate. Another training will be coming up next month. The mindfulness training is beneficial to both the first responder and the people they deal with in their work.
During the three-hour training, participants from all over Utah and as far away as Oklahoma learned how to begin a practice of meditation and grounding. Grounding is the practice of focusing on what is happening in the present, rather than past events or experiences.
“They learn to get themselves to a mindful spot and to help others ground themselves,” said UCSO Lt. Jeffery Jones. Jones, who has worked in law enforcement for 29 years and has instructed in de-escalation tactics, conflict resolution and negotiation among other topics, led the training.
The training helps the officers to have empathy for those who they are dealing with and to know how to de-escalate a situation. “This is how you get people out of fight or flight,” Jones said. “It works for both the other person and the officer himself. It boils down to, ‘Hey, will you take a breath with me?’”
“One of the ways that people talk about mitigating implicit bias is to practice mindfulness,” Jones said. “When we talk about implicit bias, we start to recognize thoughts in a new way. We think ‘What is this person’s life like? How can we come together?’ Being mindful of a thought helps you to recognize that you are having those thoughts and recognizing where they are coming from.”
“I’ve negotiated with many, many people and these have been times when I have had to suspend my judgment of who they are,” Jones said. “These are people who are trying to hurt others or have hostages. I had to suspend that judgment. It has happened on many occasions.”
The mindfulness training also helps first responders who are dealing with the inevitable traumatic experiences. Each participant practiced an eight-minute meditation and gratitude practice. Meditation, according to Jones, allows for the focus on self.
Spouses were invited to this training because they can experience high amounts of stress due to their loved ones’ jobs. That stress has been increased due to the negativity surrounding police officers in the United States during the past few weeks. “We forget about spouses and the stress of hearing disrespect against their spouses.” Jones said.
UCSO Lt. Tom Hodgson, who is in his 34th year with UCSO, and his wife, Suzette Hodgson, participated in the training. “Anytime I have an opportunity as a law enforcement officer to add another tool to my toolbelt, I take that opportunity.” Tom Hodgson said.
Hodgson said his wife wanted to attend to gain an understanding of what law enforcement officers do regularly and how they can cope with those things. “Mindfulness will help me as a coping mechanism. In law enforcement, sometimes we’re not very good at destressing. This will help with us, our families and those we deal with on a daily basis.”
Both Tom and Suzette Hodgson tried meditation for the first time at the training. “Now we want to start doing it in the mornings together. It will be a good way to start the day,” Tom Hodgson said.
First responders are invited to attend the next training on Aug. 14. For more information, check out the UCSO website or email ShannonG@utahcounty.gov.