I didn’t always know I wanted to be in law enforcement, but I did learn problem solving and de-escalation skills at a young age. These skills served me well in the career paths I pursued: When a man broke into my hair salon while I was there after hours; when, as a flight attendant, dealing with “air rage”; and juggling the fast-paced demands of an on-air traffic reporter for KOMO-TV. But these skills served me best in my 26 years in law enforcement.

The ability to calm chaotic situations is no longer an optional skill for those who work in law enforcement. New laws that govern Washington’s police officers set a high bar when it comes to training and accountability. It’s my job as executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to implement these new standards, and we’re buckled up for an exciting, important and sometimes rocky road to a new era at the commission.

The road ahead is exciting because the training we provide has the potential to produce new officers who have more training in problem resolution than any prior classes of graduates. In addition to de-escalation training, we now offer classes that provide recruits a broader base of knowledge including classes on the history of race and policing, structural inequalities in the criminal justice system and LGBTQIA+ history. Exposure to these classes allows our recruits to more fully understand the historic role of police and the expectations of community. We intend to shape officers who bring empathy and common humanity to every interaction, officers who are as agile with verbal jujitsu as they are with physical weapons.

While trying to develop officers through investments in training, we are also implementing new state standards for officer certification. The commission members recently voted to adopt administrative codes and policies that implement E2SSB 5051, the new law that raises the bar for officer conduct. It provides mandatory and discretionary rules for decertification, including domestic violence, sexual misconduct, dishonesty and affiliation with extremist organizations. In conducting this work, we intend to reaffirm the spirit of the law in a manner that respects the principles of fairness and due process.

How police show up in interactions with the public can make or break a person’s experience. Those who can’t figure out how to have successful interactions while enforcing the law may need more training or may not be suited for the profession. Either way, the commission has a lead role in navigating those outcomes.

Over my decades as a trooper, sergeant, lieutenant and then captain at the Washington State Patrol, the times that meant the most to me all involved connecting with people. My worst day involved notifying parents that their teen had died in a car collision due to a drunken driver. My best days involved respectful conversation, and sometimes a laugh, with people I pulled over. Like when I asked a man I had just ticketed if I could “call him dawg?” in response to his license plate holder that read, “My friends call me dawg.”


What I most want to teach future generations of law enforcement officers is to lead with humanity: Humanity toward others and toward ourselves. Policing is a dangerous job, and there are inevitably moments of fear. That fear, however, should not be rooted in differences. We need officers who show curiosity and interest in people, who read about and travel to other places, who step out of their comfort zones toward broader human acceptance.

After years in other kinds of professions that serve the public, witnessing the Rodney King beating and uprisings sparked my desire to serve my community as an officer — first the Los Angeles Police Department beating of King and then the attack on truck driver Reginald Denny during which bystanders saved his life. As I observed these chaotic scenes and people not knowing what to do, I felt scared as I witnessed the confusion and disorder, but at the same time felt inspired by the heroism. It helped me see law enforcement as a path to use my skills and talents in service to my community.  

I eventually applied to the State Patrol because I wanted to help people in their times of need, acting as a positive force. Today, my goal remains the same, and I have the opportunity to broaden the impact. By integrating humanity into training, and upholding the public’s expectations for accountability, we can train classes of graduates who will be armed with the best nonlethal weapon of all: empathy.