Educating the 21st Century Police Officer – Teaching Blue Courage as a Way of Life

Background

A law enforcement career is undoubtedly one of the noblest of callings. Men and women embark on careers in law enforcement to serve the public, uphold laws, protect the innocent, and maintain peace and order in their communities. The pursuit to serve and protect comes with many stresses and pressures for police officers, which includes putting their lives on the line. Policing can be a psychologically stressful job filled with uncertainty and risk, extreme challenge and high expectations, and demanding work hours. The inherent dangers and pressures of police work put officers at higher risk for suicide, divorce, early death, and low job satisfaction. The negative risks of law enforcement can adversely impact morale and police officers often lose sight of the reasons they were called to serve. In an effort to combat these challenges and to reinforce foundational principle and value-based leadership to policing, Michael Nila, a retired Commander from the Aurora, Ill., Police Department, in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), took a holistic approach to police wellness and performance to create Blue Courage, a transformational educational and leadership development process focused on the human growth of a police officer. Blue Courage is a two-day training course designed to educate officers on principles and practices of human effectiveness, purpose-driven work, resilience, positive attitude, and sound judgment. When developing Blue Courage, Commander Nila and the Blue Courage team, consisting of retired law enforcement officials with decades of combined experience and knowledge, went outside of the police profession to draw upon relevant, proven literature and research on human effectiveness, positive psychology, stress management, and wellness. Employing lessons on the 5,000 year old practice of mindfulness from renowned thought leader davidji and tools provided by the Institute of HeartMath, an internationally-recognized nonprofit research and education organization, the team developed Blue Courage philosophies to help police officers serve honorably while living healthier and happier lives. Bringing Blue Courage Principles to the Field In addition to Blue Courage being a stand-alone course, it was also envisioned that, concurrently, Blue Courage principles could be infused into existing police academy curricula, without changing performance objectives and without adding any extra time or resources to the existing curricula. Therefore, in 2012, BJA provided funding to the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) to pilot Blue Courage trainings in three states. The focus of each pilot engagement was to educate academy instructors on how to embody, teach, and infuse Blue Courage principles into their existing learning processes. Arizona was the first pilot state to teach Blue Courage to its recruits. As part of IADLEST’s pilot work, the Blue Courage Delivery and Development Team facilitated Blue Courage classes to Arizona academy instructors. The topics covered in the classes were:

  • Foundations – introduce and orient instructors on why Blue Courage is essential for success and offer background information as to how Blue Courage was developed and will be presented.
  • Police Culture – ensure instructors understand the power and influence that police culture has on its force, and ensure they understand that culture is adaptive and therefore essential for survival.
  • Nobility of Policing – reignite a sense of passion, purpose, and commitment to the profession of policing, and help instructors understand the connection between purpose and engagement with one’s calling.
  • Respect – discuss respect and its fundamental role in building trust and healthy relationships while challenging behavior that compromises respect and human dignity.
  • Resilience / Hope – understand the power of resilience, managing emotions, quieting the mind, and storing and recovering energy, while practicing and developing skills essential for resilience.
  • Positive Psychology – learn the importance of a positive, grateful, hopeful perspective to a long, healthy, happy and productive life, and the power individuals have to control their thinking.
  • Health / Wellness – learn the role a healthy brain plays in long-term health, wellness and happiness; learn simple routines and practices to maintain a healthy brain and body.
  • Practical Wisdom and Deliberate Practice – encourage critical thinking and effective decisionmaking by learning about practical wisdom.
  • Courage – ensure instructors understand the difference between bravery and courage.

After completing the Blue Courage class, Arizona academy instructors began facilitating their first Blue Courage class for recruits. The inaugural class consists of 48 recruits who will receive 20 weeks of basic police training which includes more than 700 classroom hours with Arizona’s Blue Courage trained instructors. The Arizona instructors not only stress the importance of incorporating Blue Courage philosophies into the policing practices, but encourage the recruits to see Blue Courage as a philosophy that can be incorporated into all aspects of life. According to Commander Mark Perkovich, Blue Courage philosophies enhance the basic training curriculum currently employed at the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy (ALEA). “This inaugural class will have a better foundation for policing when they graduate from the academy,” said Perkovich. “Blue Courage focuses on not only an officer’s skillset and toolset, but his or her mind and heart.” Every day of the academy, the Arizona instructors encourage recruits to study the tools listed in the Coherence Advantage Pocket Guide, which provides a framework for everyday skills that build strength and resilience. They also suggest the recruits keep daily learning journals to document examples of how they put what they are learning into practice. During their training, the recruits receive the Nobility of Policing: Guardian of Democracy book, which takes a look into the lives of law enforcement professionals and the challenges, the nobility, and the contribution of their careers as America’s guardians. To reinforce Blue Courage philosophies, class Sergeant, Charles Cabrera of the Scottsdale, Ariz., Police Department, posts quotes from the book around the classrooms to inspire recruits to embody Blue Courage philosophies on a daily basis. Additionally, the classroom and ALEA campus is decorated with Blue Courage materials, including posters and flags, to serve as a constant reminder of the Blue Courage way of life. At the end of the Blue Courage training, the recruits will earn a Blue Courage pin to wear on their police uniform. To further the work in Arizona, the BJA National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC), in partnership with the Carolina’s Institute for Community Policing (CICP) has recently provided Blue Courage training courses in jurisdictions across the state. Additional funding was provided to the CICP in an effort to keep up with the demand for Blue Courage training from law enforcement agencies across the country. One of the main takeaways of Blue Courage training is that learning and self-improvement for police recruits does not stop after the academy. The program encourages recruits to apply Blue Courage teachings to maintain a healthy life and keep a positive outlook while on the job. For more information on Blue Courage, visit bluecourage.com. If you are interested in requesting Blue Courage training, please fill out the online NTTAC TTA request form. To submit the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future TTA Spotlight, please e-mail nttac@bjatraining.org.