The health in hobbies

Pursuing activities outside of the squad room can relieve job-related stress

      Inside a house located in the desert of Arizona, an officer stands in his kitchen. After a long day working in homeland security, he's looking for a respite. Within these walls, his wife Cheri nearby, he can put aside the stress of being a law enforcement officer. He puts down his badge and picks up a spatula.

   Officer William Young has been with the Phoenix Police Department for more than 33 years. But he's been doing something else longer. He's been baking cookies.

   "I started baking cookies 50 years ago," Young says. "My mom taught all of the kids to bake. She started me baking at about 9 years old. My dad was in the Army and while we were overseas, at Christmas time we would bake cookies to send to the enlisted men's barracks."

   After he became an officer, he continued to bake, but he started doing it regularly around 1990. Since that time, he has become known as the Cookie Cop.

Professional and personal stress

   "To stay healthy, you have to have interests outside the police department," Kerry White, communications supervisor with the Phoenix PD told a group of newly hired police telecommunications operators. Too often, police officers and support staff find themselves immersed in the cop world without any link to civilian life. Unfortunately, this can overwhelm a person. One way to combat that is by adopting a hobby. Many officers understand the need to have outside interests and embrace the challenge of maintaining a passion beyond the badge.

   In the academy, new officers typically receive 700 to 800 hours of training. "We provide them with all the training they need to be a police officer," explains Thomas Gillan, director of the Central Florida Police Stress Unit. "We teach them how to shoot a gun, how to drive a patrol car and how to take control of a situation." In contrast, he states officers only receive approximately 2 to 3 hours of training in stress and ethics. "They go hand in hand," he says. "When I went through the academy, I was told you react to stress in the way you were trained. We don't teach them about the realities. We don't talk about the high rate of divorce, the high rate of alcoholism, suicide and line of duty deaths. We don't give them the tools they need to cope and help themselves go through during their career." Having a hobby is one of those tools.

Playing with glass

   "As with many of us, I endure the common stresses of the job," says San Francisco County Deputy Sheriff Mike Hill. "I wanted to have something to do during my off-hours, and as a person who felt he didn't have the coordination for sports or a creative side, I didn't do very much." This quickly changed after he walked into Glass Reunions, a San Francisco shop catering to the glass arts.

   "In 1999, I began glass blowing at Public Glass in San Francisco," Hill says. "In six weeks, I completed the Level One course and was hooked. I continued onto the second level to refine my skills." Along with improving his skills, Hill found his hobby was also helping shape his well-being. "When I'm in my studio, I have neither judgment nor second guessing of whether I am doing something right or wrong," he states. "There is no criticism from others. I am focused on my work and don't think about those daily issues which bother me. This helps me have a clearer sense when I have to come back to reality."

   The reality is that officers are bombarded with negative things every day. "People don't call the officer when things are good," Gillan says. "Someone won't call and say, 'Hey, my daughter's graduating today and things are good.' They call when things are bad. [Officers] take in all this stuff and it will affect you after a while." Gillan uses the analogy of picking up bricks and putting them in an invisible backpack. Eventually, the backpack becomes too heavy to bear. To deal with the everyday personal and professional stress law enforcement officers have, Gillan says that officers "need to get involved in something else other than your job."

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