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  • Writer's pictureRachel Morgan

PODCAST: Chief Ryan Johansen

Updated: Apr 9

Current Chief of Police for the City of San Bruno in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chief Ryan Johansen, a long-standing mindfulness and meditation practitioner and coach who began his law enforcement career with the San Diego Police Department, discusses his efforts to integrate mindfulness and wellness practices into his department’s culture and social identity and other needs and strategies for positive change in public safety culture and practice.

How the intervention of a wise field training officer following an early career experience with a shooting set him on a course of healthy coping mechanisms and resilient policing.

The value of immersive mindfulness training as part of his agency's efforts to develop a cultural identity of mindful and resilient policing and officer wellness.

Performance-based resilience training and how mindfulness and other forms of mind-body and emotional intelligence training and practices are foundational to optimal performance in law enforcement.

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Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Hi, everyone! Welcome to another session on day six of the Global First Responder Resilience  Summit. My name is Richard Goerling. I'll be your co-host for this session. Today's theme is  leading resilient cultures. I'm pleased to be here with Chief Ryan Johansen of the San Bruno,  California Police Department. Ryan, thanks so much for being here with us today.  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Oh, it's a pleasure. Thank you for having me, Rich.  

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Absolutely. So, Ryan, I'm going to start out by reading your bio. I know that often is sort of  uncomfortable, but it's helpful just to set the stage, so folks know where you come from.  

So, Ryan's bio. Chief Johansen currently serves as the Chief of police for the city of San  Bruno in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ryan is long-standing mindfulness and meditation  practitioner and coach. He has worked hard to bring the value of these practices to the police  department's wellness efforts.  

While Ryan and his staff have worked toward this objective from multiple directions,  the primary focus has been on integration into the department's culture and social identity.  Ryan possesses a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in law enforcement management. And  he's currently enrolled in the Masters of Homeland Defence and Security Program at the Naval  Postgraduate school's Centre for Homeland Defense and Security.  

I'm stoked that you're in that Master's program. That's fantastic. That is a phenomenal  learning journey. I'm excited for you. I look forward to hearing more about it.  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Yeah, it's been a huge challenge already. I'm learning so much right out of the gate. I'm very  fortunate to have been invited into it. 

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Yeah, there's some really great stuff there. I'm sure your classmates are pretty phenomenal  folks, too. And this is a good conversation maybe to have with them as well as we talk about  leading resilience and what does that look like?  

So, Ryan, we've worked together before. We've trained together. I call you a friend. I'm  just really privileged to be here and have this conversation with you. As we get started, what I  would like to ask you to do is just kind of frame your story in whatever way feels right at this  moment, but just kind of tell us about Ryan. Tell us about how you got started in law  enforcement and what the arc of your career has looked like today, and a little bit about what  it's like to be a chief of police.  

Chief Ryan Johansen: 

Yeah, I can certainly try. I think that rather than reading off some sort of a resume that will be  unimpressive to most, I think it might be better to just kind of characterize my explanation by  the topic of our conversation here today a little bit.  

I was a little bit late to the party in terms of law enforcement. I had a life before  deciding to become a cop. I got out of college and started a couple of businesses right out of  the gate. I was enjoying that, relatively successful, but really, like most people would say, just  kind of lacked that deep-rooted sense of meaning that I was looking forward to how I was  spending so many hours of my life.  

That ultimately drew me to law enforcement. I don't really remember how. I just  remember showing up at Balboa Park in San Diego to take a written test for the San Diego police department. Thirty days later, I was in the police academy, and the rest is sort of history, as they say, right? But in terms of some context for this mindfulness journey and how we all  end up where we're at, as is so often the case, necessity was sort of the mother of invention for me.  

I had a little bit of meditation practice that I developed early on in life. My father died of  Lou Gehrig's disease when I was 14 years old. I'm the oldest of five kids. I was introduced  through a friend of my dad's to the idea of just kind of being able to quiet my mind and center myself with no real formal practice when I was young. 

And then, in my first year with the San Diego Police Department, as is the case with so  many of us, I was involved in a pretty hairy officer-involved shooting and really wasn't sure what to do with that. I'm right up at the station following my interviews, and I have the kind of  the good old boy crew grabbing onto me ready to do what all too often happens, right? Call  me out to the bar and throw it on a bunch of beers and talk about how I've somehow done  society a favor by being involved in this incident.  

I was very fortunate to have one of my field training officers from just a number of  months prior I'd heard what happened from another subdivision of San Diego PD and showed  up at the police department literally as I was on the way out the door to go have choir practice  and snatches me up and says, "Yeah, there'll be a day for that but today isn't it." This guy  instead took me out and explained that the coping mechanisms I established in that first 24 to  48 hours, we're likely to become the ones I fell back on for the many years of sort of  strengthening myself from that experience that we're sure to follow.  

I don't think he has a formal mindfulness practice by today's definitions. We're talking  about almost 20 years ago now. He took me to the beach, and it was really clear that we were  going to actually think about and discuss what had occurred, discuss how I internally  processed it as an individual, not as this person I thought I became when I put on the uniform.  And, boy, it proved invaluable, right. Like I said, I got to the party a little late. I was already  married, already had two young children. And the last thing I wanted to do was bring this  experience home in a negative way.  

Don't get me wrong. There's been growing pains over the years from that experience. I  went through many of the same things so many do after an experience like that. But I feel like I  was equipped to process them in a very different fashion because of the incredible act of  compassion of this individual, who not only took it upon himself to train me but then took the  time to leave his work and come and grab me at such a pivotal moment.  

And so, shortly after that, I spent a couple of years in San Diego. I transferred to San  Bruno Police Department. My wife is from the San Francisco Bay Area, so it was kind of a  natural progression for us. And a place where we would rather have sort of raised our kids and  ended up with San Bruno. 

San Bruno immediately presented an awesome opportunity because with San Diego, working with some 3000+ police officers, and it's really easy to just kind of get lost in the  shuffle. Cultural identity is all over the place in a department that big, but then I come to San  Bruno, where we have 50 cops, and we're all intimately involved with one another. And the ability to sort of impact and affect culture is evident every day. We're almost reinventing it on a  daily basis through our actions and the way we interact with one another.  

Right away, I saw this is a great opportunity to sort of share what was shared with me  and see what it can do for people long-term in their careers. I was blessed with a number of  administrators who were willing to grant me the latitude to bring some of these practices into  the police department well before I was the Chief. I think we've seen that over time that  integration has, as I'm sure we'll talk about today, kind of become a part of our social identity,  who we see ourselves as both in relation to each other and in relation to other police officers  and other police departments. It's sort of a source of pride.  

And so, coming full circle, it's phenomenal now to be in a position, where, by the graces  of a wonderful city manager who puts a lot of confidence in me, we've been able to institute  new policies, procedures, and programs almost overnight, and not be so afraid of failure. And  instead, be excited about the possibility and try new things. And when they don't work, move  on to the new thing with not being any worse than you were. So that's kind of a long-winded  way of maybe describing how I end up you're talking to you today, Rich. 

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Yeah, that's, that's fantastic. I want to take an intentional moment just to honor and  acknowledge this mentor you had, this person who, let's just say, took you to the sand of the  beach and had a real conversation, right? It's just amazing how many people out there can do  that.  

You take that small investment of time at that moment to share some wisdom. Fast  forward 20 years, here's this guy who influenced the Chief of Police, right? It's powerful. Absolutely powerful. I'm guessing this person wasn't a police chief. I'm guessing they weren't  like some senior tenured ranked up individual. And yet, we often think that those senior folks  have the most influence. And many times, they have the least. And so, yeah. I'm blown away  by how you describe that. And, yeah, that's fantastic.  

And so, here you are now. You're Chief. You're talking about policies and procedures  and programs and mindfulness and integration of mindfulness into the culture of your organization. Maybe it would be helpful for us, Ryan, if you could, in your own words, kind of  describe how your organization views mindfulness, or even, maybe, be more nerd-like. How do  you define it? What is it? What does the integration look like, and why is it important? 

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Yeah. First, I should probably come right out and say that for every other department that's  trying to do this, it is a work in progress. I'm definitely not sitting before you today because I've  figured out the magic pill, and we're this perfectly mindful organization all the time. We're not. 

In fact, I would say that it's our investment in the process and our understanding of the  fact that sort of everything is experiential as a group that has brought us to where we're at. So, we know we have a long way to go, but we're pretty committed to continuing down that path. I think that that comes from the fact that if you can create those sort of early successes, right, we've been very blessed by, first of all, the two and a half-day intensive retreat that my  department did with your group was incredibly powerful as I think in an immersive  introduction.  

We had been talking about mindfulness. I had been modeling it, which I think there's  some good conversation to be had around that concept in formal leadership and modeling and  how critical that was in shifting the culture prior to the immersive training, that the immersive  training then brilliantly gave these little tidbits of practice that even the most cynical could take  away, try when they were at their worst, and suddenly realize the merits experientially.  

There was a tipping point there, where we went from this being something our hippie  chief does and I'll be then believing that it works based on my career path, my trajectory, and  kind of the way that I live my life to something that, "Oh, my goodness, this works. Yes, the  science is powerful." I know we're going to talk about how important it is to tie the science to  this more like mystical belief system that sometimes sits in the periphery of mindfulness, but  the experience was the big piece.  

As soon as they got to taste it in whatever way they did for many with some really  simplistic like, you know, pops up trouble sleeping, we know that. And suddenly, they had  something they could do besides having an extra drink or just being frustrated by not sleeping,  that they got to experience the difference in how they were able to get not only sleep but  higher quality sleep. 

And then, I think we came back and integrated that with the science. I have sort of a  passion for that biohacking world and the things that we can now measure to give you that  feedback system that tells you this is working. I think the end result is that not that everyone's  practicing this every day in San Bruno, but they do believe in it, and they do know that it works.  It's become a part of, again, our cultural identity, how we speak, and how we act. 

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Yeah, that's great. We've talked a lot about mindfulness over the years, and then, of course,  we've trained together in that intensive two and a half days. I love that you describe  mindfulness as a work in progress or that what you're doing is a work in progress and that  there's no prescriptive 'this is the way to do this.' And being responsive to the nuances of your  organization, the nuances of the personalities that make up your officers, and your leadership  team, that makes up your community and what your community needs from your folks.  

I think that maybe it's helpful for me to frame mindfulness as we've talked about it and as we've trained. It's really nothing more than cultivating the skill of attention. We're just  paying attention to our own experience and learning how to regulate it. There are lots of  definitions. Jon Kabat Zinn often talks about mindfulness as paying attention to purpose without the natural judgment and emotional reactivity that can come with that.  

And so, the science piece has been normalizing so much of the experience that comes  from the occupational stress and trauma as well as just the trauma of life that your officers  experience. And so, normalizing the experience you had as a young police officer in San Diego  after the officer-involved shootings, normalizing the trauma that your folks deal with, that you  learn about, you have to lead them through if it leads that resilient culture.  

And so, mindfulness allows us this framework to not only experience. This might sound  strange, but to experience the trauma to be in it, to lean into it, and to perform our tradecraft,  right? To do our work, to do our jobs, said differently. And then, to be accountable as individuals and accountable as a team, accountable as an organization to move forward, to step into actionable interventions like psychotherapy and integrated medicine, and social connection and mindful movement, fitness, nutrition, all these other things that come along with that.  

And so, I'm curious about how your organization is pursuing some of these things.  What are some experiments that have worked well, and even maybe what's one or two that  maybe you've learned, like, "Oh, we probably should have done that differently, or we're  gonna quit doing it that way and figure out what's a different way?" 

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Yeah, that's a great question. I would say the things that are probably working the best have  been almost individualizing this concept and this effort, trying to really focus on creating a very high sense of self-worth among the individuals in the organization creating an environment  that encourages and celebrates this individuality. I think specifically because I have this  underlying message to my folks that I don't want the 'you' you think you need to be when you  put on a uniform to come to work. Whatever we did in this line of work that made us think that  that's the answer is probably how we ended up down a dangerous path quite some time ago, probably before I was even around.  

And so, changing that narrative to be that "No, no, no. I want the 'you' that you are at  home with your partner, with your kids, with your parents. I want that this job, this place, to be  a platform upon which you pursue the best possible version of yourself, and who you are, your  experiences, your beliefs, all of that needs to permeate what you do when you're wearing this  uniform. I find the greatest disconnect and the most problematic behavior comes when that  stops.  

Even for myself. I know that the moments in my career I'm least proud of are those  where I was trying to be what I thought this sort of uniform made me and what the world  needed to see when I was wearing it. Only to come full circle to realize that what the world  really needs is a human being with a gigantic heart to wear that uniform, to look at every  interaction as impacting personal individual lives.  

I think that all feeds into itself, right. We talked about policies, procedures, even coming  in and doing small things. Like, I eliminated an archaic tattoo policy that said that you couldn't  have your tattoo showing when you're wearing a uniform. I eliminated the facial hair policy. I  eliminated any policies that seem to have been previously tied to some sort of purpose, but for  which me and my command staff with the best minds in our department couldn't articulate  what that purpose really was, whether it was hairstyles or just a certain type of uniform, you  had to wear where you had to look, in order to encourage that self-expression through the  medium of police work within the department.  

I think the natural segue from that was to say that, "Okay. So, now, if you're allowed to  be yourself, now, how do we, as an employer, create an environment in which you are  continuously improving yourself; however, you define that. The job provides perhaps the  greatest possible set of opportunities of any profession I've ever considered to do that. It's a  virtual nonstop course in personal development and improvement if it's seen that way.  

If you embrace this growth mindset instead of sort of this fixed mindset. Mindfulness  ended up almost accidentally becoming the best possible framework for that. Because it gave them a plan. Like, okay, I want to be the best me. What does that mean? I don't know how to  be the best me when someone's screaming at me six ways from Sunday on the street and is  calling out my family and being so hateful towards me. 

Well, mindfulness, in my opinion, is the mechanism through which to not only be able  to survive that situation but to thrive from it and to become better as you come out the other  side, and in terms of your resilience. And so, I think that we started with this deep commitment  to individuality and to allow people to really come in and express who they are and what they  want this job to mean. 

We stopped trying to define it with the mission and vision statement that was written  by someone, God knows how many years ago, and we invested in letting the line-level folks  rewrite that in their own words internally with, "No. Hey, you have to write it a certain way that  it's gonna look great for the outside world." No, this is ours. Let's make it ours. Let's make it  about who we want to be. 

They came out with some miraculous things as to why they do this work. What is their  why? What is their real motivational factor? And then, we incorporated that into that sort of  sense of being. And then, I think the more practical side of that is once we had that kind of  figured out, we then use that as a foundation upon which to rebuild almost everything else we do.  

So, things like personnel evaluations are now completely centered around those things  that are line-level identified as being our purpose as a law enforcement organization so that  we're making an effort to quantify and measure the things that historically we've just said are immeasurable. So, why put them into an evaluation? Things like ensuring peace, providing  safety, being courageous. We're still working through trying to quantify what those things  mean. But they are incorporated directly into how you're evaluated on your day-to-day  performance. 

Wellness. Basically, we call it our whole human approach to wellness. But our focus is  that wellness isn't about diet, or exercise, or mindfulness, or clinician care. It's about all of it.  And so, we have sort of this six wings approach to wellness. We've restructured our fitness  incentive program that gave like a pay incentive for what before was literally like, "Can you  touch your toes? Can you walk three miles in 45 minutes?" Then, here you go. Here's your extra pay to a point-based system that grants rewards  for activities in all of those six areas. So, you get points for going to see a clinician about your mental health. You get points for going through meditation practice. You get points for  exercising, for embarking on a new diet, for hydrating properly, for sleeping at least seven  hours. Kind of building the backend systems to support all these things that we're espousing.  That's probably more information than you were looking for, but those are some of the things  we've done that I think have worked. 

In terms of some things that maybe haven't worked, when we first came back from the  two-and-a-half-day intensive, my vision was that we were going to fully integrate mindfulness  overnight. We got it. Now they've been exposed to it. We got coaches certified. Let's go! This  is going to be a daily or weekly practice. We set up a room for it and set up all the capabilities  to do it. I failed to recognize this very important sort of the value of this old adage, right, that  culture eats policy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as they say.  

The process of integrating this into our identity and our culture was going to have to be  much more involved. It is going to require a long-term commitment. And I think what I found  kind of excitingly, but also a little bit embarrassing in hindsight not to see this, is that it needs  to be by real conscious design. There are right ways to seed a new belief system through a  culture of people. And we did a lot of that using sort of the social identity framework.  

I know I've used that term a couple of times, right? But this idea that there are in groups  and out groups throughout our world, and in law enforcement, boy, is that accurate. And if the  change doesn't come from the 'in' group, it will never be embraced. I don't care how important  it is or how compelling it is.  

And so, we were able to identify ways to begin seeding this through the 'in' group and  making it about elite performance. And about being the best you that you can be about feeling  better about who you are. And that seems to have been what's made the difference?  

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Yeah, that's really powerful. It's really fascinating. There's so much remarkable scientific  research around mindfulness in large populations. And then, there are some really practical  research outcomes around mindfulness among police officers that my team is responsible for  some of that. We have some other folks researching at the University of Wisconsin and some  other places now.  

Basically, what we know is we can train mindfulness skills, and we see some really  great outcomes. We see improved sleep. We see a reduction in alcohol use. We see a reduction in anger and aggression and improvements and compassion. We could save  humanity. And a number of things that are really, really phenomenal. As chiefs, as community  members were like, "Yes, please. We need that." The really difficult part is that we cannot  approach the integration of mindfulness like we would approach the integration of body  cameras, right?  

It's like, "Oh, yeah. Of course. This is easy." It just steps one, two, and three. Let's  socialize this. Here's the policy, and boom, now, even with some disgruntled folks, sometimes  we'll eventually figure it out. We'll all wear body cameras and operate them, and it's all good.  

Mindfulness isn't that way. It's going to look different in San Bruno than it's gonna look  in San Francisco than it's gonna look in San Diego. That's how it actually should be because it  comes back to what we talked about at the very beginning, which I really want to talk about  some more, and that is this notion of individualization. 

You framed your approach to meeting people at the San Bruno Police Department in  ways that really resonate with me and my background as a researcher, specifically around  positive psychology and trauma. The way you're approaching this, Ryan is one of the most  trauma-informed, or I'll even say, more specifically, trauma-competent leadership strategies. Because what you're doing is you're giving your men and women in uniform a sense of self worth, right? In their terms, what we might refer to as agency. With that agency, with that  sense of self-worth, we can reframe our perspective and our relationship with occupational  stress and trauma. We can reframe our own experience and even resistance to things that  maybe would normally create an instant barrier.  

For example, by simply training and some foundational skills that allow us to cultivate  that sense of agency, and cultivate the compassion and curiosity about the world around us  and still be a badass skillful police officer, we might have less resistance to the philosophical  conversations around police reform. We might be able to hold the conversation when our  community member or politician says we're going to defund the police. We might be able to  more compassionately listen in here, especially guys like you and me who look like us, you  know, are in conversation with our communities of color who talk about Black Lives Matter.  And all sorts of social justice movements and efforts to create a more equitable society don't  feel like a threat anymore and are as incredibly powerful. So, by resourcing our police officers  with this sense of agency in the skill of understanding their own experiences, even  understanding their own bias that emerges, and they go, "Oh, that's interesting. I'm really  uncomfortable. This is what I'm thinking about. But I can just let that sit. I can still take in this information. I can still show up with that vision and purpose that, as you described, your folks  got together and said, "Hey, Chief. Here's our purpose, right?" I can hold that purpose and align my actions with that purpose. I've got my own values, my own political opinions, my own ways  of being, my own ideas, and maybe along the way, some of those things will evolve and shift,  or maybe they won't, but I can still show up in my community with skillful performance. And  sometimes, we don't see how we encounter resistance, political or otherwise, as an actual  performance issue. And it really is.  

So, this authentic humanity that really grounds your culture is so critical. As sort of the  amateur scientist and researcher on a lab that looks at this stuff, I think it's the foundation for  growing forward. I chuckle a little bit. We talked about you coming back from the immersion  training. We're like, "We're going to integrate this. We're going to do this." What we know is  you can't just create a policy that says, "We're going to be a mindful police organization." Well,  first of all, we don't know what that means. I mean, I'm not even sure what that means. I've  been doing this work for a long time. But you know, it reminds me a little bit of Michael  Pollan's work around food, right. And for years, he's been writing about food and science. He  writes a lot about sort of the slow food movement and how we take time to prepare food. We  take time, and it takes hours maybe to cook certain meals. As it turns out, they taste better. As  it turns out, people want to eat them. As it turns out, they're actually better for us in the short  run and in the long run.  

I think when you talk about this slow, conscious design of whole human health, I think  you're onto something, man. I compare it with sort of the slow food movement and nutrition. I  think for sustainable change, it has to happen slowly. That is how I see it. That's what you're  experiencing. That's what you're leading. It's difficult. There's no question. It's difficult when  you have this environment of occupational stress and trauma, and in this environment where  your police officers will be trauma injured on the job. That's just what we know. It's what the  data tells us, what the lived experience of the men and women who serve in this role tells us is  that trauma, injuries, something that's going to happen. That impacts leadership, too. That  impacts our ability to be a follower. It impacts our ability to be a leader.  

And so, with respect to trauma, what are your thoughts around your approach with this  whole human health? What are some of the things that you're doing that you've seen be really  effective in intervening with the cycles of trauma injury that happened among police officers in  San Bruno? 

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

That's a great question. Again, this is one of those rap honest. This is very much a work in  progress. Mostly because we're discovering that we can leverage the insane amount of data  that we compile now as a police department and some of the measurables that we've talked  about here and in the past, to queue up, paying better attention to trauma, being better  informed about trauma as an organization and being on top of it, and not to let the pitfalls that  have traditionally plagued our industry in general, the entire policing enterprise get to us so  much.  

I think the classic example is the way we rushed to help an officer when there's an  obvious trauma that they've encountered in the line of work. The most obvious is the officer  shooting, right? There are dozens and dozens of others, but that's maybe the most illustrative  example here. We're pretty good. I use that term kind of smirkingly, right? Like, we're pretty  good about at least providing some initial services. But traditionally, we were horrible about  realizing the real nature of trauma that severe and its long term implications and the triggers  that come up over the years, both known to the organization or should be and the ones that  are not, and staying on top of those and working through those.  

And just as a case illustration, one of the things he asked, you know, what have we  done that I recognize it's been really hard to do as a new incoming Chief. I've been with the  organization some 16 years before being Chief, but nonetheless, as a new chief is that you're  inheriting some problems. The fact is that we had some examples of officers that had experienced real significant trauma as a direct result of their commitment to our community  and our department and their line of work that was never taken care of, well before I was even  working there. Well before I had any real role in making sure that wasn't the case. It seemed  clear that one of the first things we need to do is sort of some housekeeping on those existing  looming issues. Because, you know, there's that old adage that you know, what you do scream  so loudly, my ears that I cannot hear what you say. And so I could pay all kinds of lip service to  how much I care about these people. And then what the people are seeing is this example  from however long ago of an officer that's in real, real suffering, that is not being addressed or  taken care of by the department. And figuring out how the line level is defining that not being  taken care of is important, right?  

What I found is we're not offering services. That's what we've always done. We offer  peer support and EAP. Of course, we did all that. It was what their perception was that we  were providing avenues out for this individual, or we weren't advocating the city for maybe a  psych-related retirement or something that was in that officer's better interest. And so, the first thing that we did was we really took those issues on directly. We're a relatively small  department. There were two that really needed to be addressed. I think once they were, the  actions spoke louder than words among the line level that, "Oh, this command staff really does  care about what this job can do to us." And we'll make an effort to advocate for us on levels  that we haven't seen before from prior administrations.  

I think that once that was in place, it allowed them to accept our further actions as more  genuine like, oh, they're installing a new program that tracks X number of days after a  traumatic experience in our cat RMS, and then has a peer support level check-in. Now, instead of that being some stupid thing that they just think, oh, they're just trying to check a box. It's  like, "Oh, no. It's really clear that this chief of this administration, they really care about us, and  they're genuinely checking in, and making sure that we know what services are available to us  and really, coming from that place of real compassion that we want a good healthy individual  and through that a good healthy police department.  

I think that that was a really important piece of dealing with the issues that were  inherited, and then what the actions are conveying that we were genuine. And then, I would  say that what's been nice that's followed after this slow process that you're talking about is  that now the first sort of treatment we look for when we're experiencing difficulty as an  organization in most cases pertains to this concept of mindfulness, resiliency, and wellness.  The door has been opened, so to speak.  

If someone goes to you over a cup of coffee to their beat partner and says, "Man, I  haven't slept in three days really graveyards killing me. And my kids, I was super impatient  with my kids today. And that's not who I want to be." It's not just a venting session anymore.  That peer is likely to make a suggestion in terms of treatment that is in line with these  concepts and these principles in the sort of different way of thinking. And that seemed to really  be the tipping point.  

I don't know how to describe it besides it's becoming who we are. It's becoming how  we treat things. We could talk about COVID-19 in that respect for ages and how we've sort of  addressed that internally, maybe differently than a lot of other organizations, but I think that  hopefully answers your question about how we've integrated this.  

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Yeah, that's fantastic, Ryan. One of the things that really sort of lands with me is you've  described leading a resilient organization as a practice. It's a practice, it's not perfect. And it's not prescriptive either, so there's no formula for how to do it right. I think that's both the  challenging part, but it's also the beautiful part. It's the part that allows you to really lead from  the wisdom of your culture, the wisdom of the people that are not just your command staff, but  the wisdom of the men and women who make up your team in San Bruno. You're not  concerned, it seems, about some prescriptive and perfect model of how to have a whole health  approach to wellness. So, that's really fantastic. I love that.  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

I'm not concerned about that in the least, to be honest, right? I think it's because we're pretty  committed to these foundational values as being not so much a means to an end. They are the  end. The end is the right way to treat one another and the right way to act, so we're gonna  keep doing it.  

For those who might not have yet seen the real-world positive consequences of this  type of approach, I mean, probably, if you're to ask a dozen police chiefs right now what the  top three things are plaguing them, I guarantee that recruitment is going to be somewhere in  there, right? It's always been on the list. And now, with the current environment and the new  generation and the way that police are viewed, it's incredibly difficult to staff your department  with good quality people who want to do this job for the right reason.  

It's not that we've been immune to that, but I have more lateral job applicants than our  department has ever had. Because the real-world consequence of this type of program is that  my people are out there selling the department. My people are out there saying, "Oh, you want  to do something different? We're different. Come over here. We're not doing things like that. You're not going to be treated that way. You're going to be treated very differently. Here's what we're doing to make sure you have a long, productive, healthy career." 

And so, there are real-world positive consequences beyond the woo-woo "Hey, you  know, we're all sitting in the lotus position, and look how woke we are." There's a lot more to  this than that. We're starting to see that manifest in these real-world positive consequences  that I'm super excited to as time continues to be able to share. 

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

That's really great. I love that. I love how we might say how the marketplace has a voice. And  that marketplace in this context is lateral officers who are paying attention to what you're  doing and want to be part of it. That's a really intensive measure of success. So, congratulations there. I want to speak to this woo-woo notion of sitting in a lotus position. I will sit in a lotus  position and meditate. I'm not embarrassed by it. I also know this - doing that when I was a  police officer allowed me to be more skillful. It allowed me to drive my vehicle safer and faster.  It allowed me to make decisions more appropriately and faster.  

I think that there's this idea that we all want to perform better, right? We all want to  be, especially when you start drawing in some of the toxic cultures of policing. And some of  the ways that we have, I don't know, we've corrupted maybe is a strong word. We've kind of  corrupted this notion of being a warrior. We're coming back to really what it means to be a  warrior communitarian with this approach that you have. 


This idea of improving performance starts internally, right. The more I know myself, I  mean, this is ancient wisdom. The Greeks, for example, inscribe this above their community places and temples, this notion of 'know thyself.' Right. And it's not just 'know thyself,' but it's  'know thyself, accept thyself.' Right? Accept that, "Oh, wow. I'm really feeling distressed right  now. What's wrong with me?" And then, noticing the judgment that emerges around my own  observation of self and just to allow myself to be like, "Okay, I'm feeling melancholy." 

I just had this series of critical incidents, and I'm not sleeping, and I'm irritated, and you  know, whatever it is to go, "That's normal." And to be accountable because we've cultivated  the sense of agency, the sense of individual identity that is important to you and your team,  and your men and women in San Bruno PD. And the ability to take action with that and not  just sit in it and not stew in it, and not maladapt with my behavior as a result of feeling  distressed, right? And so, this ability to be in distress, more skillfully, is a performance  outcome.  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

I couldn't agree more with everything you said, and I certainly don't mean to speak  disparagingly about the idea of sitting in a lotus position or anywhere else in terms of  meditation.  

In fact, I think that one of the cultural shifts that we've enjoyed is the fact that I was an  informal leader in my organization well before that leadership role was formalized. I don't  hesitate to sit and meditate in front of God and my country. It's not something that bothers me because I'm hoping to dispel that sort of myth that this is somehow some sign of weakness or  that it's odd or weird.

I'm not embarrassed by it in the least because I credit it with almost everything good in  my life. It centres around the fact that I've cultivated this awareness, this sense of what I am, not being this physical body and not being this ego but being this awareness of those things,  this ability to observe those things and to consciously steer them in directions. And so, I think  that that's been really important to set the example to say that no, this is absolutely about  performance, in my view, in many regards, in almost every regard. That's what this is about.  

If you can set that example, and you continue to talk that talk and walk that walk, my people can look at me, and I'm by no stretch of the imagination, perfect, but I do a lot. I have a  lot going on. I'm the Chief. I own a business. I got a family. I volunteer in a number of  capacities. I mean, I'm busy, but I'm not overly stressed. It's all about leveraging these  practices, as you say, to be able to process adversity and stress. It almost becomes a badge of  honor that instead of being ashamed of those traumas, you really can wear them as being a  fundamental part of who you are today because the outcropping of it has been positive and not negative.  

I can honestly say that of all the traumatic experiences in my life, whether it's losing my  father young, being in the shooting, losing family members, all the things we see in the line of  work since cases and homicide, the full nine yards, I would give back, not a single one of them,  as I sit here today, because I'm able to understand that my healthy processing of those things  is 100% why I'm where I'm at, and I want to be where I'm at.  

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

That's so powerful, Ryan. You're just describing what post-traumatic growth looks like. I think  there's a real helpful message in that. That's what we're trying to do with the conversations  around resilience. And in particular, that's what we're trying to do with mindfulness is to give  some hope that there is a path forward. There's a way to move out of injury to the wisdom and  insight that trauma provides us to get to a place of growth, where we can look back and go,  "Yeah, I hold the scars of that experience." I still have grief. I still feel a loss. And it has made  me who I am. And I have agency. I have a sense of self-worth, right. These are powerful  principles that you're you're building as a foundation. I want to thank you for that.  

I also want to ask you two or three things that you might recommend to police leaders  or community leaders that are out there watching our conversation today. Or even one thing. Maybe you're a new chief of police somewhere, and you're in the wellness conversation. Let's face it. It's overwhelming. What are some thoughts of wisdom that you might offer to that new  Chief?  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Well, far be it for me to tell anyone how to do their job. Like I said at the beginning, I certainly  recognize that I'm not in a unique but a pretty different environment that makes it a little bit  easier for me to implement these kinds of changes than it might be for someone somewhere  else. Especially if you're a chief coming into an organization from outside or maybe even harder if you've been on the inside for a long time and this just isn't who you are.  

This might be an overly strong statement to make, but I really do kind of believe that  this is not optional for what it's worth. I think that this is the only way that we transcend the  situation that we currently find ourselves in that none of us wants to be in. And so, I would  argue that you can't do this falsely within your organization. You can't implement this kind of  cultural change if you don't believe in it.  

And so, I would just challenge you to really explore it if this is not you. If you just think, "Man, this is so hard. I see the value, or my boss has asked me to implement this, and I don't  really know what to do with it." Take a deep dive from an explorative point of view and  challenge it. Don't come in with this, " Oh, of course, this must work because Rich and Ryan  say it does." Challenge it. I'd be surprised if you come in with an open but critical mind if you  don't see some value here. And once you can see some value, even if it's only little bits of light  at the beginning, then I think you can begin to affect this kind of change in an organization. But  you can't affect it, as you said earlier, Rich, just because you've come in and said, "Well, this is  our new policy. Hey, we're going to be all about our people now. So, here's this new policy." Your actions are gonna speak far louder than words.  

And so, if this is something that you kind of know to be true intrinsically, and you're like  me, I like to joke with you, Rich, that the day I saw your cover picture on Mindful Magazine was  the day a new leaf turned for me because I honestly felt like I wasn't alone. I thought, "Oh,  here's me, this like meditator, this kind of Buddhist flow different dude. And then here's, the  cop I am." And suddenly, it was permission to meld those. So, if no one's given you that  permission before and you do hold some of these beliefs, these tenets, then let me be that  person. I'm giving you permission. I promise that if you do it genuinely, the results will be  absolutely phenomenal for you, for your people, for your organization, for your community. I  mean, this reaches all the way across that whole platform. 

If you have this inkling, chase it, be bold, believe in it. It works. It matters. You will be  glad you did. And if you don't, please, please dive and explore it because I don't know of  another way to take care of your people the way that you are obligated to take care of your  people.  

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Powerful words, Ryan. Thank you so much for your time. I, again, man, as a community  member, not in your community but just in America, so appreciative of your leadership efforts. I  look forward to more conversations in the future.  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Rich, as always, it's a pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to the group here.  Just the fact that they're attending is just a huge boost for me to know that we're continuing to  push the needle, right?  

Lt. Richard Goerling:  

Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you, sir. Appreciate your time.  

Chief Ryan Johansen:  

Thank you, brother.


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