Operation Yoga: At this police department, mental health is just as important as physical fitness

Virginia

"I started in law enforcement 33 years ago and it was always, 'Suck it up, get over it, it's part of the job, you've got to be tough. If you can't be tough, this profession's not for you,'" Police Chief Doug Keen said. Now, that's beginning to change.

MANASSAS, Va. (WDVM) — In 2018, the City of Manassas Police Department reports 167 law enforcement officers in the U.S. died by suicide. The police department is making its officers’ physical fitness just as important as their mental health.

Police Chief Doug Keen says his police department is midsize, with about 130 staff members. “As chief, it gives you a chance to personally know each staff member and get to know them outside of work a little bit,” he said.

Through the police department’s Law Fit program, sworn officers are allowed an hour of physical fitness each day. Even if keeping up with a runaway suspect is easy, the job is difficult for other reasons.

“I started in law enforcement 33 years ago and it was always, ‘Suck it up, get over it, it’s part of the job, you’ve got to be tough. If you can’t be tough, this profession’s not for you,'” Keen said. Now, that’s beginning to change.

In August, the police department added an additional component to its program: it’s been teaching its sworn officers and staff in yoga, meditation and breathing exercises that are easily integrated into an officer’s shift. Each session only takes about 10 minutes.

“This gives us a chance to give another tool or component to the fitness side of things for staff to be more resilient in their job,” said Keen. The breathing exercises can be done in the car…and if you’re in an office like Chief Keen, at your desk. “Even if it’s just shutting the door, not doing anything on the computer and just trying to relax…I find that when I come out of those sessions, I’m more approachable, I want to talk to people, and I’m not as tight.”

Sworn officers are allowed an hour of physical fitness a day. Counselors are also on staff to help officers in need.

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