Below we provide a strategy for police leaders who wish to engage officers in their department with some of the ideas at the heart of the CREDO Project.
There is a spiritual dimension to the ambitions, accomplishments, and challenges of the career. Officers enter the career motivated by deeply noble -- spiritual -- ambitions of “helping other people,” “making a difference,” “fighting for justice,” “standing for an ideal,” or “a desire to serve and protect.” In addition, the stressors of the career are also spiritual.
Thus, spirituality isn’t incidental to the career; in many ways, it is the career. Each shift -- even the most routine -- presents spiritual challenges that can demoralize even the hardiest officer. Policing can turn even the most idealistic cadet into a cynical, bitter, disillusioned officer waiting to get out.
Departments invest significant time and money on recruitment and training of their greatest resource -- their officers. When an officer misbehaves, burns out, or leaves the department, the loss is great. It doesn’t have to be that way. Deliberate, consistent spiritual infusions can restore an officer and nurture a spirit that longs for nourishment.
Discussion of religion can be tricky and can create Constitutional, psychological, and political problems. Nevertheless, officer spiritual health requires replenishment. Appropriate spiritual training provides language, substance, and framework which avoid the dangers that could undermine the success of such a program.
Spirituality isn’t some kind of New Age touchy-feely thing; it’s about addressing, openly and frankly, the very spiritual motivations and challenges that characterize and define policing in the United States.
A regimen of spiritual insights will produce stronger, more resilient, more robust officers who have greater clarity, resolve, confidence, and passion for the ethical performance of the duties of policing. There is no greater weapon that an officer can possess than clarity of purpose, uncompromising integrity, and an unshakable commitment to ethical behavior. Spiritual survival training provides this.
The program is simple and straightforward: Offer officers a regular infusion of insight to help them detox from the corrosion of the previous shift and fortify themselves for the next shift.
Those insights must be substantive, relevant, and honest.
And where do they come from?
Perhaps you have your own material. You’ve been in the career for a long time; you’ve probably thought through many of these issues on your own. Perhaps you have books and other sources of wisdom from which you have drawn over the years. They can serve as material for presentations. You might have a chaplain who can supply content.
I wrote the book Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement in response to requests for exactly this kind of content. Its goal is to provide practical insights and practical tools. It can serve as the springboard for countless conversations on the topic of spirituality within policing and provide many powerful tools with which an officer can fortify his / her spirit and confront the challenges of the career.
Only Jay Leno does monologues; you want to create a conversation.
Provide a way for your officers to express their doubts, fears, frustrations, bewilderments, and anger. That’s healthy and desirable.
Giving them the right answer is not as important as giving them the language and permission and comfort to air their questions. Acknowledging this aspect of the career and of the officers has the power to save careers and lives.
Perhaps they won’t feel comfortable to express themselves in public. That’s OK; create some way for them -- a suggestion box, e-mail account, etc. -- to give their feedback privately and anonymously.
You, Chief, have to support this initiative, or it will die.
Once the basic infrastructure is in place, it can’t degenerate into another rote program that runs on auto-pilot and becomes just another automatic, perfunctory chore that can be discharged without any conscious thought.
Sure, there is a template in place; but you need to keep it fresh, dynamic, open, vital, honest, and real. Otherwise, it will become just another disappointment and betrayal to your officers who saw, at the beginning of the program, the means to alleviate their pain and fortify their spirits.
It requires creative leadership to maintain this delicate balance of putting an on-going program in place and still keeping it fresh and relevant and new. Be that leader who can meet this challenge and support your officers to become their most robust and resilient.