Optimizing Mental Performance: The Importance of Mental Well-being in Law Enforcement


By, Kelli Kehoe and Wayne Sasso – O2X On-Site Mental Performance Specialists


Excellence in law enforcement requires more than just physical strength and technical expertise. It demands mental resilience, sharp decision-making skills, and a holistic approach to overall well-being. To address this critical need, two groundbreaking partnerships have emerged at O2X, as Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) and Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) recently embedded O2X Mental Performance Specialists at their agencies to work directly with law enforcement officers on improving cognitive well-being. 


Each agency has implemented the O2X Integrated Specialist Program (ISP), which stands at the forefront of organizational improvement. The ISP employs a science-backed methodology that identifies and targets key areas of need within an organization. By utilizing observation, education, training, and analysis, this program significantly enhances the operational capability of law enforcement agencies, ensuring that every member is optimally prepared for the challenges they face in the line of duty.


With the integration of O2X Mental Performance Specialists into these agencies, a new standard of excellence is being set. By prioritizing the mental and physical well-being of law enforcement officers, PBSO and ACPD are revolutionizing the way law enforcement professionals are prepared for their demanding roles. Whether it’s enhancing decision-making skills, building resilience, or improving overall performance – these Mental Performance Specialists will be at the forefront of developing strategies to create a successful future for the agencies and their dedicated personnel.


We caught up with both Mental Performance Specialists, Wayne Sasso (ACPD) and Kelli Kehoe (PBSO), to get their perspective on working within law enforcement. Check it out:


Kelli Kehoe is an O2X Mental Performance Specialist-Program Manager located at Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office in Southern Florida. Kelli attributes her consistent impact on those she works with to her education and hands-on/real-world approach. Kelli has worked with Barry University Athletics, the South Carolina National Guard, and US Military units stationed throughout the country and abroad. While at Barry University, she worked with the Men’s Soccer team and Women’s basketball team and played a crucial role in helping the Men’s soccer team win a National Championship during her time there. In working with the Army, she was embedded with various units where she was tasked with quickly identifying the root of an issue and putting a plan of action in place to ensure mission/unit success. Every assignment provided Kelli with a different challenge to overcome. With the 3rd Cav Aviation Brigade, she worked with pilots who were completing gunnery qualifications. While with 2-7 Cav, she transitioned from working with pilots to Bradley Armored Vehicle units preparing for deployment. With the 91st BEB Chemical Engineer Battalion, she was tasked with developing and implementing a plan to incorporate mental skills training into their physical training program. Kelli also worked with the Warrior Transition Unit to help soldiers who have suffered injury or illness while serving and were transitioning out of the Army or helping soldiers to transition back into the Army from another branch or injury. Kelli always found it crucial to understand the experiences of those she worked with on a personal level to implement a strategy or mental performance plan to overcome whatever obstacles were present. Kelli always made it a point to show up for her units and ensure they knew she was beside them, understanding their perspective and challenge present. Kelli takes tremendous pride in serving those who have taken an oath of service. She understands there is an opportunity and a need to provide mental performance training to those who serve our communities. In combining the training Kelli has received with her M.S. in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology and current Ph.D. studies in Psychology with an emphasis in Performance Enhancement, Kelli is able to apply her understanding of mental performance to many different professions making an immediate impact through her willingness to jump in feet first.


Why: “Explain the importance and impact of mental performance in law enforcement.”


Being in law enforcement is considered to be a stressful and demanding job, compared to workplace stress found in other occupations, police officers and first responders are exposed to traumatic and life-threatening situations at frequencies far greater than the normal population (Aaron, 2000; Laufesweiler-Dwyer & Dwyer, 2000; LeBlanc et al., 2008; Sommer & Ehlert, 2004). With the extreme amount of stress that law enforcement officers are under, mental performance is crucial in helping the performance of deputies within the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO). Deputies encounter many stressful events on a regular day to day basis, and must still perform a variety of complex mental and motor tasks while on the job. With that also being said the factors of working long hours, and constantly remaining vigilant around citizens that may be either hostile or in a crisis. Research has shown us that when under high levels of stress law enforcement can be linked to poor decision making, increased absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, and early retirement (Land et al., 2022). By implementing mental performance within law enforcement the hope is that it will enhance their composure and self-regulation when facing difficult situations, this will also help them to be able to regain psychological and physiological balance after experiencing daily stressors in a quicker manner.


What: “Describe the core components and techniques that comprise your approach to optimizing mental performance.”


Holistic approaches are the best route to take when working with the Deputies of PBSO, it is taken into consideration all aspects of the individual- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is important to make sure that we keep in mind that deputies are human beings that have other things going on in their lives besides the work they do. I have found that there is no “one size fits all” approach when working in mental performance and each tactical athlete deserves to have their own training program made for them. With that being said, there are many types of mental performance skills that are pivotal for tactical athletes, some examples include: stress management, communication, active listening, goal setting, fixed v. growth mindset, attention control, motivation, energy management, and recovery from injury.


When and Where: “Discuss the timeframe and locations where you will be implementing these mental performance practices within the police agencies.”


I will be located within the Well Being program of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, working diligently to create a long-term relationship between O2X and PBSO. It is crucial within mental performance that it is understood that this is not a quick fix to working through scenarios law enforcement may be facing. It takes time, patience, and practice to work through the thoughts, feelings, and scenarios law enforcement may be facing or feeling to be able to make those 1% changes every day. Depending on the work a deputy wants to put into working with me, for some it may take a few weeks to a month to overcome the problem, but for others it may take months to be able to unpack the complexity that goes into what they are feeling or thinking. 


How: “Explain the practical application of mental performance strategies in the context of law enforcement.”


When looking into the practical application of these skills listed above, techniques can be integrated into deputies day to day life in order to help them with the following diverse areas of law enforcement, including: traffic stops, premises searches, suspect questioning and arrest, officer-involved shootings, and any law enforcement scenario that requires alertness, confidence, determination, clear thinking, and peak performance (Miller, 2008). Just a note: I do not have any real life examples as I have just started and am not implementing mental performance plans with deputies yet. 


Conclusion: “Summarize the potential benefits of incorporating mental performance strategies for law enforcement officers.”


An important factor required for mental performance training to become a benefit in law enforcement is culture. Law enforcement agencies seeing the value of psychologically skilled LEOs and working to ensure that training academies emphasize the development of these skills in recruits will lead to a more prepared agency. It is also crucial for the mental performance skills to become habits for deputies, just like the ones they are taught during the academy. Mental performance skills should be viewed as perishable and influence deputies to implement ongoing training and requalification of these skills throughout their careers. By doing this, it allows for mental performance to be at the forefront of conversations within law enforcement and make sure it is a priority for them moving forward. By incorporating mental performance strategies within law enforcement it will allow for stronger deputies not only physically, but mentally as well.



Wayne Sasso is an O2X Mental Performance Specialist located at Arlington County Police Department in Northern Virginia. With a background in performance psychology, Wayne has supported tactical  athletes, performers and individuals  as they strive to get the most out of their performance. He comes to O2X from The Optimizing the Human Weapon System program in Tucson, AZ. A program that provides fighter pilots with embedded physical and psychological support to improve readiness. In this role Wayne was responsible for designing and implementing a psychological program that included a standardized curriculum, one-on-one coaching and cognitive training activities as part of physical training for pilots of the mighty A-10 Warthog. Prior to that Wayne worked as a Mental Conditioning Coordinator providing sport psychology services to teams and individuals at the youth through professional levels of sport. In this role, Wayne helped athletes with performing under pressure, rebounding from performance errors and building awareness of the mental game. Wayne is known for helping performers build self awareness and implement incremental changes to improve performance, consistency and quality of life. 


Why: “Explain the importance and impact of mental performance in law enforcement.”      


It is no secret that stepping into a career in law enforcement comes with large amounts of stress, staff shortage, mandatory training, special details, events, and overtime. That is all before touching on the topics of violence, trauma and the other experiences that are unique to the job. In addition, every officer is a human being first which comes with things like bills, relationships and parenting. There is no shortage of stressors experienced. What tends to be in less supply is the time spent on the skills used to address these stressors. Resilience is often the answer to addressing this steep challenge of stress experienced, and resilience is best defined by action. The American Psychological Association defines Resilience as “The process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences- like trauma, financial stressors or relationship issues.” However, what it doesn’t mention is that in order to build resilience, proactive action is required. This proactive and habitual practice is what allows us to build and utilize mental fortitude in the face of adversity. The aim of this article is to describe my approach to developing resilience and elaborate on the advantage of having an on-site specialist.


What: “Describe the core components and techniques that comprise your approach to optimizing mental performance.”

As a mental performance specialist embedded with law enforcement, my first area of focus is always self awareness. Working to define and have a solid understanding of one’s values, motivations, and goals. This alignment or misalignment with what is important to me at my core has a large impact on my perspective and my ability to cope with what is thrown my way. We also want to be able to notice and identify the things that contribute to me at my best and some of the things that have consistently undermined my performance. This awareness or accountability allows us to form a habit around intentionally keeping what is good for my performance and adjusting to what is not. This is where some of the skills of self regulation come into play. 


Drilling Perspective: As simple as it sounds, having the mental agility to use or change your perspective is an essential tool to building resilience. This is something that comes right out of the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and has proven to address challenges like depression and anxiety. Drill or practice finding the meaning or alternative impact to the stressful event experienced. Zoom out, look to gain a broader perspective. How can this current experience be leveraged to address your values or goals? You feel like your supervisor is standing in the way of your development. What skills and abilities can you develop as a direct result of dealing with this challenge? How will you do things differently when you’re the one in the leadership position?


Low and Slow Breath: Another simple and sometimes overlooked skill is the power of taking a breath. Deep breathing, low and slow breathing, and box breathing are all names for the same concept of using breathing as a tool. This tool can be used to reduce physiological stress levels before, during and after high-stress encounters. Not only is this tool great for addressing stressors in the moment, it’s also great practice for decompressing after work, and building our ability to be self aware. We work through a 3 second inhale and 5 second exhale, building to a 5:7 breath. Think of those moments when pausing and taking a breath could have beneficial effects. Getting up on the radio with important information to pass on, communicating with an agitated citizen, or answering a question in court. 


Routines / Systems: Having a routine or a system of approach is more than just a tool for pre-shift performance. We can all acknowledge the benefit of having a routine when it comes to how to start or finish a work day. The use of routines or systems can also be extended to things like decision making, performing under pressure, and bouncing back from mistakes. A system for addressing decision making and attentional control that spans all performance environments is  “What’s Important Now?” or “W.I.N.” W.I.N. is a great system for battling the attentional error “paralysis by analysis” or indecision. This goes for those moments where pressure is present and we have to make a decision. This system can also apply to looking at long term goals and figuring out what to address today. Another system that we coach is “Recognize, Reset, Refocus” or “The 3R’s”. This is a system that stems from noticing when I’m undermining performance (Recognize) Utilizing some self regulation (Reset) and making adjustments to improve performance (Refocus). Systems and routines can mitigate distractions, enhance concentration, and improve confidence. 


When and Where: “Discuss the timeframe and locations where you will be implementing these mental performance practices within the police agencies.”

Being an on-site specialist creates opportunities for these skills to be implemented in a few different settings. In my time at ACPD, the introduction and practice of these skills have taken place in one-on-one sessions, group discussions for squads and new recruit classes, and out in the field. These conversations can pop up during an 8 hour day at the range or in the few minutes after roll call. The development of these skills are like any other skill, they require time and practice. My position affords just that. I am able to introduce these skills in the settings I described and then continue to work with officers day to day in building them.


Conclusion: “Summarize the potential benefits of incorporating mental performance strategies for law enforcement officers.”

Building resiliency and the skills associated requires intention, consistency, and self awareness. In order to be resilient we have to be proactive in our actions. My role as an on-site specialist affords me the opportunity to guide members of this department to that consistency and proactivity. We as Cognitive Performance Specialists can’t impact the amount of stress our clients experience. What we can impact is the skills and strategies our clients are equipped with. As a performer in any space, it is important to put into practice the act of shifting your perspective, slowing things down with a deep breathing, and implementing routines. You are not only managing stress in real time you are building the mental fortitude required for resilience. 



  1. Aaron, J. (2000). Stress and coping in police officers. Police Quarterly, 3, 438-450.

  2. Land, W. M., Guan, J., Smith, P., & Burque, B. (2022). Psychological skills inventory for law enforcement (PSI-LE): development and validation of a multidimensional measure of psychological skill use for law enforcement. Police Practice and Research23(6), 757-774.

  3. Laufesweiler-Dwyer, & D. L., Dwyer, G. R. (2000). Profiling those impacted by organizational stressors at the macro, intermediate, and micro levels of serval police agencies. Justice Prof, 12, 443-469.

  4. LeBlanc, V. R., Regehr, C., Jelley, R. B., & Barath, I. (2008). The relationship between coping sytles, performance, and response to stressful scenarios in police recruits. International Journal of Stress.

  5. Miller, L. (2008). METTLE: Mental toughness training for law enforcement. Looseleaf Law Publications.

  6. Newman, R. (2005). APA’s resilience initiative. Professional psychology: research and practice, 36(3), 227.

  7. Sommer, I., & Ehlert, U. (2004). Adjustment to trauma exposure: Prevalence and predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in mountain guides. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 329-335. Management, 15, 76-93.

About O2X Human Performance:

O2X Human Performance provides comprehensive, science-backed programs to hundreds of public safety departments, federal agencies, and the military. O2X works with clients to elevate culture, improve mental and physical wellbeing, support healthy lifestyles, and reduce healthcare costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Driven by results and cutting edge research, O2X programs are designed and delivered by a team of Special Operations veterans, high level athletes, and hundreds of leading experts in their respective fields of human performance.