Buddhas in Blue: Enlightened Ways to Make Policing Work For Everyone

In this moving, illuminating, and impassioned discussion, retired Police Lt. Chris Orrey and San Bruno Police Chief Ryan Johansen open our eyes as to the realities of policing in today’s world and offer solutions as to how the entire institution of police work could be transformed to become more effective and sustainable, both for police officers and for the communities they serve. Ryan and Chris explain that applying an Integral approach to police work—which BTW encompasses a lot more than simply law enforcement, to include the roles of social worker, mental health counselor, EMT, and more, in crisis situations—is exactly what is needed to turn around an institution that is controversial and flailing at this point. They point out that it is essential to prioritize officer wellness—not just physical wellness but interior wellness as well—and give officers the coping mechanisms and support they need to integrate the inevitable trauma of the job and role model resilience for the victims and survivors they interact with. An Integral understanding also paves the way for police leadership to become servant-based; where leadership puts the welfare of the officers first and foremost, and in turn, officers are in peak condition, mentally, physically, emotionally, to serve and protect their communities with compassion and skill.

Nationwide, it is a time of catastrophic crisis in police recruitment and retention. Most departments are severely understaffed and morale is at a dangerous low. Chief Ryan’s San Bruno police department, however, is fully staffed and the officers have high morale. By applying the principles of the Integral Model and practicing a heartfelt, servant-based leadership style, Ryan has turned this national trend around. Whether policing impacts you directly or not, there is much to be gained by listening to this stirring conversation, which reveals so much about the realities of our society and the incredible courage, compassion, and outright nobility it takes to be a police officer—putting your life on the line to protect and serve others every single day.

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Very good presentation. It’s always helpful to hear practical approaches. I like the idea expressed here that Integral Theory is a “map to holisim”. That’s exactly what attracts me to this forum.

On the theoretical point of the role of the “Red”, I prefer an alternative framing. Lt. Orrey mentioned something about dropping back to red or falling back to red or something like that. It applied that red is a sort of downgrade, a bit of an embarrassing necessity on occasion, but not really where we want to be all the time. My view is that “red” is core human expression of primal biological flight/fight functionality that lies very, very close to the bone. Cut yourself off from your inner “red” and you are choking off energy at the very source. This need not imply perpetual warfare. It just means we need to use our animal bodies the way they need to be used. I live near a school complex. Yesterday I took a nice walk and every playing field was with loaded kids competing in one sport or another. There was a lot of healthy red out on those fields. The ideas of police officers working out or training in martial arts is excellent. My view of human nature is that the inner warrior is in us all, ever ready to spring into action. Denial of that causes a lot of problems. Training that inner warrior for prosocial action is the better approach. From that point of view, perhaps the idea of police as role models is something that might make a comeback.


Such a great point Robert, and I totally agree. Red is often seen as the “bad guy”, but it is in reality a tremendously vital stage of development, and one that is really important to integrate in a healthy and conscious way. And because Red, when left to its own devices, can be a very impulsive stage, it probably helps to work toward vibrant Red that is regulated by healthy Amber (which is why things like sports or boxing or MMA fighting can be such a good outlet for red, since there are fundamental Amber rules in place that help keep Red excesses in check.)

Interestingly, when I was creating the list of film clips for the stages of development (link below) I had a hard time with Red. Not because there weren’t plenty of examples — there definitely are — but because it tends to be difficult to find examples of Red that are “positive” or, at the very least, developmentally appropriate for the context and conditions. I ended up settling on a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, where Furiosa is displaying healthy and appropriate Red leadership. “Want to survive? Follow me.” Check it out, if you haven’t already.

Conan was a good example too, especially since he is the protagonist of the film, but I feel like that Red ethos is being presented in a more-or-less neutral tone (I mean, as neutral as violence, pillaging, and “hearing the lamentations of the women” can be, I suppose.)

Can you think of other positive examples of Red in film or television?

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The Hulu movie “Prey”. All of it.