Barrington police chief brings mindfulness, meditation to law enforcement
Barrington police chief brings mindfulness, meditation to law enforcement
By Katie Mulvaney / providencejournal.com

By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer

kmulvane@providencejournal.com

BARRINGTON, R.I. — People attending the Mothers Against Drunk Driving candlelight vigil last month might not have expected what lay ahead.

Barrington Police Chief John M. LaCross welcomed the crowd by asking the auditorium of 400 or so to place their feet flat on the floor and close their eyes.

He then guided them through an 11-minute meditation that entailed deep breathing, relaxation and a visualization of a loved one they had lost as music tinkled in the background. LaCross led the crowd in the dimmed room through what he calls “The Visit.”

He invited them to view a light: “As you get closer to the light, you notice a person is in the center waiting for you. … This person is your special loved one who has passed over into the Spirit World.”

See their face, their smile, he said. That person wants you to release any sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, guilt. Onlookers sunk deep into their seats. Tears flowed. Sniffles could be heard.

LaCross has guided families stricken by drunken driving through a meditation each year except one since 2006. His objective is to let them know they are not alone in their grief, that their loved one is always with them and hears their prayers.

Loss is a subject close to LaCross. His older brother’s suicide in 1979 launched him on his spiritual journey.

LaCross’ brother Joseph took his own life at Wesleyan University, where the 20-year-old hockey player and psychology major stood months away from graduation. LaCross was a junior at the University of Rhode Island at the time.

“It made me always go on a quest to find out the truth. Is he alive?” LaCross said recently in his office as music softly played. His brother Joey’s photo looked down from the windowsill.

LaCross began exploring the world of psychics and mediums. He attended a medium class led by Maureen Hancock more than a decade ago. Hancock sensed a presence. She described features that fit LaCross’ brother. Finally, LaCross raised his hand.

“It was your brother, wasn’t it?” Hancock said. “I said ‘Yes,’” he said.

“ ‘He’s with you. He’s with you every day. He’s your guardian angel,’” LaCross recalls her saying.

“For me that was life-changing,” LaCross said. “I just felt so connected to him.”

 

LaCross began as Barrington’s police chief in 2002. He came to the department from the Rhode Island State Police, where he had risen to second in command.

He wrote his first version of The Visit after being asked to welcome families to the MADD vigil by its executive director, Gabrielle Abbate. She advised him to talk about statistics, and perhaps underage drinking since two Barrington teens had recently died in a drunken-driving crash.

“I’m thinking, ‘You know what, these people don’t want to hear that. They want to reconnect with their loved one.’ ”

Close to 400 people were on hand for that first guided meditation. State troopers filled the front row. “I was like ‘Oh my God,’” he said. He forged ahead, inspired by his brother.

LaCross’ spiritual side might come as a surprise to some. For years, he kept it to himself.

“Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t be speaking to you,” said LaCross, his hair flecked with gray. He recounted being struck by the timing of the request for an interview about The Visit. He had minutes earlier looked at the photo of his brother on the visor of his cruiser, consulting him about needing a spiritual push.

“If it helps others, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

Abbate believes he’s doing just that.

“When he started this, as surprising as it was … we were, on a personal level, touched by it,” Abbate said.

She saw tears that first vigil. She heard gasps. Some attendees fidgeted. She encountered her late sister.

“We keep doing it because, the people we are there to service, most of them gain a lot of solace,” she said.

She was impressed that LaCross wore his uniform at the most recent vigil at Smithfield High School as dozens of municipal and state police training recruits looked on.

“His message was bigger than any law-enforcement uniform could hold,” Abbate said. “I think it’s amazing for someone who’s been in law enforcement as long as he’s been.”

 

LaCross works to achieve balance through yoga and by meditating 20 to 30 minutes each night by candlelight. If his mind races, he envisions placing the thought on a shelf in the closet. He concentrates on breathing in and out.

He is a Reiki master, meaning he is trained in healing-touch therapies he has extended to cancer patients at Women & Infants Hospital and to gravely ill friends and family. He believes in the healing power of energy.

He has taken five classes in grief counseling. He recently enrolled in a stress reduction program offered through the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

“It’s my balance — the spiritual,” he said, gesturing to a desk thick with paperwork that includes the department budget. “Spirituality is so important in everyday life.”

That spirituality has helped him to deal with tragedies, including the death of a good friend to esophageal cancer. He was a friend since childhood of East Providence Capt. Alister C. McGregor, who was shot to death in a SWAT team training exercise in 2001. He is convinced life continues even after physical death.

He encourages the officers in his department to show compassion and empathy to everyone they encounter. He recognizes those individuals are often in aggressive, irritated, even out-of-control states, he says.

“It’s about compassion, respect for others, treating people with dignity,” he said, adding, “Everyone has a story, even the criminals.”

LaCross recognizes there’s a perception that police officers, public-safety workers and others in the law-enforcement arena must keep up a tough exterior.

“It’s a very difficult job being in public safety. You have to be strong in times of crisis. You can’t show emotion,” he said. “We’re all human. We just wear different clothes to work.”

He wants to bring a more holistic approach to policing and hopes one day to offer a class, perhaps during municipal training, instructing officers how to reduce their stress through mindfulness techniques.

It’s an idea being embraced by police departments elsewhere. News reports have chronicled the Hillsboro, Ore., police department’s efforts to cultivate mindfulness through yoga, meditation and breathing. That training was instituted after the sudden resignation of the police chief and a shootout between officers and one of their own. The military, too, increasingly looks to mindfulness and meditation as a way to reduce soldiers’ stress.

LaCross encourages others to speak their truth.

“Don’t fit the mold. Don’t always try to be what people think you should be. Live your passion.”

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 14,088 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal
Mark Manson · 12,882 views today · There’s no class in high school on how to not be a shitty boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, they teach us the biology of sex, the legality of marriage, and maybe read a few...
Time-Lapse Satellite Images Give a Startling Snapshot of Past 30 Years on Earth
2 min · 12,276 views today · Working with satellite images from NASA and the US Geological Survey, Google has created a searchable snapshot of the past 3 decades on Earth, creating startling time-lapses of...
Dr. Maya Angelou: Love Liberates
5 min · 5,455 views today · Words to live by from Dr. Maya Angelou. Love each other.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 5,126 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 2,075 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 1,953 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,181 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,103 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The Lid Is off, The Truth Is Coming Out
Charles Eisenstein · 1,056 views today · It is getting harder to keep a secret these days. The collective shadow of our society, once safely relegated to the dark basement of the unmentionable, is now exposed to...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,022 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 964 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
Sleaford Mods on Brexit Britain
4 min · 894 views today · In early 2014 the Guardian hailed duo Sleaford Mods as ‘the most uncompromising British protest music made in years’. Here, we go backstage at a Sleaford Mods gig in their...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 818 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 538 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 461 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 436 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 388 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 350 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 319 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Barrington police chief brings mindfulness, meditation to law enforcement