Spiritual Fitness in Law Enforcement

Eden Prairie News Commentary, Wednesday, November 16, 2005
By Dan Carlson

As I write this commentary I am preparing for our annual EPPD all department meeting. The meeting is an opportunity to bring all staff together, volunteer and paid, civilian and sworn, to hear a review of the past year’s activities and a preview of the next. By the time you read this, the meeting will be, as they say, ‘in the books.’ I mention the meeting because it is there that I will present the idea of implementing an ‘Organizational Fitness Program’ in the EPPD. It is a program that includes a spiritual fitness component.

Here’s the concept. All life, whether that of an individual or an organization, is made up of three basic components: body, mind and soul. To have a healthy and productive life, an individual or an organization must care for, train and exercise, physically (body), intellectually (mind) and spiritually (soul). A fit body + a fit mind + a fit soul = a fit life.

The law enforcement profession has done a good job of addressing the first two components of this equation. We’ve always understood the need to have police officers who are physically fit and able to perform the essential functions of the job. Physical fitness means more than just the ability to physically control and arrest someone who doesn’t want to be arrested. It’s also the physical ability to drive a car, to operate an extensive array of lethal and non-lethal weapons, to administer first aid and perform rescue techniques at a traffic crash scene.

We’ve also come a long way in the area of intellectual fitness. When I started in this profession 24 years ago there was a conscious push to professionalize the job and raise academic standards. At that time, newly implemented licensing requirements included a college degree, minimum in-service training requirements, and mandated training on specific subject matter such as use of force and other topics specified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board. Since then, the required mandates have increased and been refined to further the effort of professionalizing law enforcement.

The third component in the equation is a fit soul. One way to define a person’s soul is to view the original equation from a different perspective: life (body + mind) = soul. A person’s soul is that part of life that remains when you remove body and mind. Things like character, personality, being, faith, religion, ethnicity, culture and values. These characteristics contribute to a person’s spirit, which in turn directly impacts an officer’s ability to follow the mission laid out in the law enforcement personal conduct guidelines.

There are three steps involved in rolling out a spiritual fitness program: awareness, assessment and application.

  • Awareness: A spiritual identity exists in all of us but it is not always easy to see or quantify. I acknowledge that spiritual identity can be a tough concept for some folks to wrap their arms around. By talking openly about spiritual fitness in law enforcement, I hope to raise its awareness, making it easier for our staff to understand.
  • Assessment: Next we will need to assess the spiritual needs of the department, both as a whole and on an individual level. I propose that this can best be accomplished by pulling together a representative team of department personnel who have an interest in spiritual fitness as well as representatives who may question its validity. This group will help determine what exactly is needed in the EPPD, for example, bringing in a professional speaker on a regular basis to address the topic or providing more opportunities for spiritual fitness in-service training.
  • Application: After studying the department and its members and their needs, we will have a better sense of what the EPPD spiritual fitness program will look like. Because so many of us already participate in spiritual activities such as reading, reflection, fellowship, meditation, prayer, physical exercise, outdoor quiet time and faith and religious practices, I anticipate that the application phase of the program will go smoothly.

The law enforcement profession has learned that having healthy individuals and a healthy organization through physical and intellectual fitness programs brings about positive results. The community gets high quality of service and at the same time decreases its liabilities. It is time to formally add spiritual fitness to the equation. It is good for the individual, good for the organization and good for the community. It is good public stewardship. I truly believe that not only is promoting spiritual fitness in law enforcement an acceptable practice, it is an essential practice if we are to be a healthy and fit organization.