In four decades in law enforcement, Sue Rahr’s hard work and uncompromising integrity earned the respect of her colleagues, politicians and reformers.
But her influence on the culture of policing has been felt by millions of Americans who will never know her name.
Rahr’s retirement on March 1 as executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission marks the loss of a dedicated and visionary public servant who challenged law enforcement to work differently. She embodied the ideal described in a favored quote from Michael Nila and Stephen R. Covey’s book, “The Nobility of Policing”: “Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy.”
It was a responsibility she took seriously, orchestrating a shift from training law enforcement offices as warriors to guardians of their communities, beginning during her tenure as King County’s first female sheriff, a position she held from 2005-2012.
In 2011, she introduced the LEED (Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity) training program, which taught officers the importance of verbal communication and de-escalation techniques. She launched that curriculum statewide when she was hired as executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in 2012.
In that role, Rahr seized every opportunity to infuse guardian culture into basic training for future police officers, deputies and other justice system professionals. She did away with “boot camp”-style conventions like berating new recruits for failing at purposefully impossible drills. She replaced posters and displays evoking themes of battles and survival with a large mural of the U.S. Constitution and other symbols of policing as a noble calling. Curriculum covered not only the basic principles of police work, but lessons on constitutional rights, behavioral and social sciences, and effective communication. Her work earned her national recognition, and a spot on then-President Barack Obama’s 11-member Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2014.
Here in Washington, Rahr continued to embrace reforms, including lobbying successfully for a law requiring crisis-intervention training for all police officers in 2015 — making Washington the first in the nation to do so. She oversaw implementation of the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act, which began with voter-approved Initiative 940. Under her leadership, the commission was accepted last year into the Georgetown University Law Center’s Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, to continue developing a policing culture in which officers hold each other accountable.
Rahr leaves the commission in the capable hands of Interim Executive Director Monica Alexander. Alexander, a retired Washington State Patrol captain, brings a similar philosophy of policing and an impressive track record of working for transparency and victims’ rights.
As this last year has so clearly demonstrated, Washington’s implementation of Rahr’s vision continues to be a work in progress. But thanks in large part to her integrity, hard work and compassion it is on a promising path.