Blue Courage, a new way to protect and serve

LogoTo protect and serve. This motto, first adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1955, is now a generally recognized mantra for law enforcement. Policing is a necessary, but sometimes extremely challenging, undertaking. Those challenges, especially the mental and emotional aspects of the job, can take a toll on an officer.

A new program, Blue Courage, was recently brought to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Motor Vehicle Enforcement by Chief David Lorenzen. According to Lorenzen, Blue Courage is a process focused on the human development of a police officer. It draws on relevant, proven literature and research on human effectiveness, positive psychology, leadership development, and neuroscience. The goal is personal and cultural transformation through institutionalizing the heart set, mindset, skill set, and tool set of our police officers.  

Lorenzen said, “In law enforcement, we’re trained really well in particular skill sets. What we need to focus on is the whole person, including the mind and heart of each officer. This will be a huge cultural change since right now most law enforcement training focuses solely on the skills and tools, not on the mind and heart.”

He continued, “For the most part in society, we’re still seen as the good guys. People expect that when they call for assistance, the officer who shows up is mentally and physically ready to handle anything. But officers are human. We want to equip our people to have the mental and emotional toughness to be ready for each situation.”

Lorenzen and Moline
Chief David Lorenzen and Captain Chris Moline

All of Iowa’s motor vehicle officers recently completed the Blue Courage training conducted by Lorenzen and Captain Chris Moline, who are both certified Blue Courage trainers. Lorenzen said, “Once Chris and I went through the initial training on Blue Courage, we knew we needed this information for all of our officers, and we thought it was important to invest our time to train our own people. That was cost-effective for us as an agency, but more importantly it gave us a chance to spend two days with every single one of our officers. This training is the beginning of that culture change for our officers. I’m teaching it because change starts at the top. I want our officers to understand as an agency, we’re ‘all in’ on this change.”

Why is a more holistic approach to law enforcement needed? Lately, chinks in law enforcement’s mental and emotional armor have been exposed on a national scale with incident like those in Ferguson and Baltimore. Lorenzen said, “Even though we’re still seen as the good guys to individuals in need, the community perception as a whole is that law enforcement is quick to respond to violence with violence. What we’re missing is mutual respect that needs to be built over time. That’s one of the aspects of this training, building relationships within the community. Engaging in community care functions builds trust between law enforcement and the community. This trust becomes critical to more peacefully resolving issues that might come up down the road.”

Teaching Blue Courage
Chief Lorenzen thought it was important that he lead by his officers through the Blue Courage training.

Stepping up into the community and showing law enforcement’s human side can be a struggle for some steeped in the traditional way of thinking. Lorenzen said, “Putting yourself out there as a person can expose you and make you vulnerable. Sometimes our culture sees this as weak, when it is actually a sign of strength. Being more mindful and aware doesn’t make you less safe, it will make you safer.”

Lorenzen admits the culture change in our agency will not happen overnight. “We’re very good at training. We can use the skills we have learned and tools we have been given very well. What we’ve not been good at is factoring in the importance of having the right heart set and mindset. This is a continuous process. We inspect our equipment every day. We need to do a daily heart check, too.”

Blue Courage in action
Lt. Jim Schertz attended the Blue Courage training in early May. Less than a week later, he had the opportunity to put it into practice.

“There was a guy on the entrance ramp to Interstate 35 near our Ankeny facility,” Schertz explained. “I saw him and pulled over to check out the situation. He had a bicycle and I was concerned he was going to get on the interstate on his bike.”

Schertz described the man as “agitated,” but instead of the old “take charge of the situation” way of thinking, Schertz says his mindset had changed to being a guardian.

“Instead of just telling the guy to move on down the road, I took the time to listen to him,” said Schertz. “He just needed to vent and get some things off his chest. I made sure he knew I was there to help him. We had a conversation and I explained that I was concerned for his safety and didn’t want him to ride his bike on the interstate. After a little while he moved on and I felt good about the situation.”

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