Brain health as a Dallas Police line of defense

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Dallas Police officers are receiving additional defensive training, not in the use of firearms or bullet proof vests, but how to better use what is perhaps their best defensive weapon – their brains.

The Center for Brain Health, part of the University of Texas at Dallas, and its Brain Performance Institute, are now collaborating to provide potentially critical training in tactical decision-making, real-time problem solving, and better managing their emotional response to stress.

The program, initially offered to a select group of command staff and up to 500 officers over an 18-month period is not presented as a solution to PTSD but as a weapon against its potential arrival and a management tool for daily life at work and at home.

Pointing to his forehead Dallas Police Deputy Chief Jeff Cotner said “this muscle up here needs to be exercised and exercising that muscle is legit.”

“Everybody takes their brain for granted, until something happens,” said Jennifer Zientz, head of Clinical Services at the Center for Brain Health.

“I have learned, thanks in part to the work of the center, that brain health is like physical health: You have to work to pursue it,” said Lyda Hill, whose donation is funding the training. “Following the devastating day of July 7, 2016, in Dallas, where five law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, I knew I had to do something to help those who take care of us daily. I hope this effort gives the Dallas Police Department the foundation it needs to consistently make the brain health of its officers a top priority,” Hill said in a written statement.

The Brain Performance Institute will offer officers Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART) and a mindfulness program specific to law enforcement. SMART strengthens the brain’s frontal networks — regions that support planning, reasoning, decision-making, judgment, and emotional management.

“How a life in law enforcement affects the brain is unknown and woefully understudied among the scientific community,” said Dr. Leanne Young, executive director of the Brain Performance Institute. “With this work, we hope to not only improve and positively affect the lives of the men and women in blue but also contribute to the body of neuroscience research, advancing the study of brain health among police officers and other first responders.”

"If we would approach it in a brain healthier way, that we would be thinking more objectively, more strategically about information that that might help to minimize some of the stress that actually comes with it,” said Zientz.

"So before you go into that call for service you prepare yourself for the dynamics of that call for service and then you have a better response and you demonstrate the well-being and the professionalism we're looking for,” said Cotner.

"In some ways it's how do I take control of information overload rather than it controlling me,” added Zientz who conducted a Thursday morning training session for DPD command staff. “And that their performance is better because of what they're doing rather than waiting until, God forbid, crisis mode."

Crisis mode, that in one form or another will come again, but hopefully with officers armed with one more critical layer of defense.