The Police Bureau Says Yoga Training and In-House Mental Health Counseling Could Ease Retention and Recruitment Challenges

“This investment would strengthen and boost morale [and] improve customer service to all community members.”

Portland police officers surround the Ace Hotel. (Chris Nesseth)

Nearly two years after a $15 million budget cut, the Portland Police Bureau is still struggling to hire new officers and retain current staff. PPB’s $254 million proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would restore about $15.3 million to its operating budget—nearly the same amount cut in June of 2020.

That budget also includes an intriguing strategy to boost office morale: meditation workshops, in-house mental health counseling, and the opportunity to become a certified yoga coach while working at the bureau.

Amount requested: $915,000 in one-time funding.

What it’s for: Expanding PPB’s wellness program, established in 2018. Currently, bureau employees—sworn and non-sworn—are allotted one hour per workday for “individual wellness activities” to increase physical, mental, emotional, social and financial health.

In this proposal, $115,000 would be allocated to a coaching certification program whereby bureau staff could become certified trainers “in the areas of personal interest, such as meditation, fitness, nutrition, yoga, and personal finance,” according to budget documents. Once certified in a chosen area, the employee would become a “peer coach” who could offer “guidance and support” to colleagues based on that certification.

It’s an idea with some precedent: In 2016, Seattle radio station KUOW reported, for example, on a Hillsboro, Ore., police officer who began teaching his fellow officers yoga to help them respond more calmly to stressful encounters.

The one-time funding request also includes $660,000 for cardiac screenings, $100,000 for an in-house mental health care provider, $15,000 for a “wellness library,” and $25,000 for in-service training in subjects like sleep health and mediation practice.

Why the bureau wants it: To boost morale and retain existing staff while also encouraging new hires. In its budget proposal, the Police Bureau often mentions its struggles to fill vacancies amid a wave of retirements and resignations.

“This strategy aims to serve as a retention tool for members that are burned out and considering leaving. This model will also benefit the bureau as a requirement incentive to apply over other agencies that are hiring,” PPB wrote in its budget request submission. “This investment would strengthen and boost morale, improve customer service to all community members, and strengthen the ability to retain current employees and attract new applicants.”

The bureau added that the 2020 protests and the pandemic have made it “even more challenging to have employees who are thriving physically, mentally and emotionally.” In other words, officers who get enough sleep and practice mindfulness habits like meditation might be less reactive and more sociable while on the job.

“This will lead to members who are mindful, emotionally intelligent, and better prepared to serve our community,” PPB wrote, “to ensure safety and protect the rights of all.”

What the budget office said: In its March 4 review of the Police Bureau’s budget, the City Budget Office recommended the mayor reject the funding request because the city’s general fund couldn’t afford it over other budget priorities.

Instead, the budget office suggested the police union foot the bill.

“CBO recommends the bureau continue to explore opportunities to leverage other resources to support the Wellness Program,” the budget office wrote, “such as the Portland Police Association Operating Insurance Fund which may be appropriate to address some of the identified needs.”

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