The shooting of Trayvon Martin and the inaction of the Florida police that followed angered the world, but here in Seattle, we’ve been brimming over with frustration and anger over the excess of unwarranted violence from our own police force. These cases often result in an officer stepping down, but that consolation is not enough. It’s clear that there are many officers out there primed to make the same mistakes.
This is not the case for Sue Rahr who is stepping down from her job as sheriff. Instead, she is leaving her position to tackle these issues. On Monday, Rahr will begin her position as the director of the Police Training Academy and Training Commission.
“For years, some in law enforcement have believed that force and aggression are the best ways to subdue potentially violent or uncooperative suspects. There is convincing evidence, however, that police talking to people, people who are trained more about understanding human behavior can be a better alternative,” said Rahr.
Rahr has seen a decrease of crime in the 30 years that she has been a sheriff, but we as a community still have reasons to be fearful. The tragic shooting of the First Nations totem carver John T. Williams in 2010 pushed this issue into public discussion. Events where a detective kicked a Latino man lying defenseless on the ground, and an officer punched a female teen in the face, has brewed further anger in communities of color.
Last year, a report by the Department of Justice investigation claimed that the Seattle police have engaged in a pattern of unnecessary or excessive force that amounts to violations of constitutional rights. The report did not find a pattern of discrimination against minorities, but we still feel targeted as people of color.
Rahr’s mission as the soon-to-be director of the Training Commission is to train members of law enforcement and develop a new approach to improve public trust. Taking on this job would mean a substantial pay cut for Rahr, but she is not deterred, and we commend her for that.
“I truly believe we can significantly reduce the incidents of officer responses, which lose us valuable public trust — and at the same time, keep our officers and citizens safer. But first, we have to overcome the myth about aggression and make police training credible and accepted in law enforcement culture,” said Rahr.
The suspicion and distrust is mutual. However, we must overcome our own distrust to create solutions to this problem. Let’s verbalize our concerns to law enforcement, and remember to participate ― taking part in forums, talking to local law enforcement, and working with them to start a Neighborhood Watch and enforcing its rules, which are crucial to building trust and mutual respect between the two groups. Minorities groups should actively represent themselves in these efforts. We should support the ones making the efforts to work towards a solution, and encourage local law enforcement to employ more people of color. (end)