CPD utilizing yoga to encourage officer wellness, keep streets safe

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A Chicago police detective took his own life Sunday. The 44-year-old was found dead at his Near West Side home.

It's the third confirmed suicide in the department in the last three months, and the sixth since last summer.

While CPD mourns its latest loss, the department is working diligently to find new ways to encourage officer wellness and address issues surrounding negative mental health.

CPD is the first major police department in the country using yoga to help with the stress of the job and make officers more resilient.

At Chicago’s Police Training Academy, instead of shooting guns or running laps, you’’ll find recruits on yoga mats.

“This is the first time I was ever introduced to yoga,” said police recruit Henry Capparroso.

“I didn't know the Chicago Police Department had yoga as even a class,” said police recruit Andre Melchor.

At first there were skeptics. Yoga's not for hard-nosed cops. But now it's a fully-embraced tool for officer wellness.

“It's not a weakness, it's actually making them stronger. Making them mentally resilient, physically resilient,” said Sgt. Liz Schultz.

Schultz is in charge of the “Yoga for First Responders” program at CPD.

“They've taken yoga - the essence of it - and sort of translated it into the sworn world,” she said.

She says this particular training program isn’t what you would see in a typical yoga class. There’s no music and no candles, and recruits say they’ve noticed a difference.

“Of course guys aren't crazy about yoga, like ohhh yoga, ok. But yoga is actually challenging,” said Alexander McCaskill.

“The relaxation, the flexibility, to be able to calm yourself down,” Ravyn Morgan added.

It couldn't come at a more poignant time for the police department. At least five CPD officers have taken their lives in recent months.

“It's no longer appropriate to bottle up what you're seeing and what you're dealing with, that there's resources to help deal with those stresses,” said Commander Daniel Godsel. “It's something that we need to confront and deal with.”

Godsel oversees recruit training at CPD.

“There's a tremendous amount of focus on officer wellness and resiliency and taking care of our people,” he said.

The recruits are not the only ones benefitting from the program. It's changed the outlook of 20-year veteran Officer Richard Rice.

“I found that this was different than anything else I had done before. I started, frankly, feeling a release from, well I'd call it trauma that had been built up for years,” he said.

The Chicago Police Department believes more people will see the benefits – that's it's not a stretch – this program makes the streets a little safer.

“It's a huge paradigm shift for the CPD to engage in this type of training,” Schultz said. “We have to do something different.”