Spirituality: The DNA of Law Enforcement Practice

Article excerpt

"Peace officers are exposed to the worst that life has to offer. [T]hey see the denizens of society at their very worst--when they have just been victimized or when they have just victimized someone else. Peace officers see the perpetrators of evil and the results of their evil deeds. The constant contact with evil is corrosive, and those effects are cumulative. From the initial selection of a peace officer ..., great care must be taken to ensure the emotional, psychological, and physical health of that individual. That care must address preparation for contact with evil, not just address evil's effects. Law enforcement managers must recognize the short-and long-term effects of this work and ... must protect those who they task with the protection of others." (1)

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These profound comments from a veteran law enforcement executive highlight a danger that no bullet-resistant vest, superior firearm instruction, or innovative tactical technique can protect against. These observations reveal the acute need for those in the law enforcement profession, as well as the communities they protect and serve, to recognize the nexus between intentional care of the body and spirit and vocational survival of those charged with enforcing this nation's laws. In today's world of terrorism; mass shootings, especially of children; and other heinous acts of violence, law enforcement officers are exposed to increasingly toxic situations that adversely affect their bodies, their minds, and, most of all, their spirits. Ultimately, this unrelenting exposure to inherently evil individuals and the scenes of their crimes can critically impact officers' abilities to effectively perform their sworn duties.

For clarity, this article is not about religion (2) nor is it a treatise about ethics, fundamentalism of any kind, popular fads, intuition, emotional or social intelligence, religiosity, or stress management, per se. Rather, the author's purpose is to acknowledge the link between spirituality and law enforcement to enable its embrace within the profession. In other occupations, including those in the fields of medicine, higher education, and business, many employees, managers, and their organizations have recognized the healthy effects of embracing a critical spirituality. It is time for the law enforcement community to begin a dialogue that recognizes the humanness of officers and the tragic consequences that can occur when the toxicity they face on a daily basis overtakes them.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONNECTION

While some may perceive the subject of spirituality as controversial because of the common misunderstanding of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, (3) society must become aware of the inherent spiritual nature of law enforcement. Spirituality denotes the nurturing of the spirit throughout a person's life in all of its dimensions and expressions. (4) The four basic components of spirituality include 1) a value-based meaning that emanates from a personal belief system, 2) the total integration of self in pursuit of holistic meaning, 3) the total integration of self in academic disciplines and vocational service, and 4) the recognition of self as a spiritual being on a human journey toward the destiny of that personal belief system. Thus, its domain encompasses research and practice in many areas, such as law, psychology, sociology, anthropology, criminology, criminal justice, religion, theology, and law enforcement.

Spirituality--a sense of meaning and purpose larger than the instrumental duties of law enforcement--affects the most critical aspects of practice, performance, vitality, and longevity in the profession. (5) It energizes the ethics of practice, resulting in exemplary (efficient and effective) performance. Whereas performance refers to what tasks officers do to enforce the law, practice is how and why they fulfill their sworn responsibilities, doing so with a spirit that evokes the highest virtues of human dignity (the spirit of the law). …