Early Sunday morning on June 13, our daughter, Lexi Harris, was killed when she stopped to help at an accident scene on Interstate 5 south of downtown Seattle. She was headed home after her shift as a Seattle Police officer ended. She had no duty to stop. Hundreds of people sped on by the crash scene. But Lexi stopped to try to get the victims of the crash to safety.
This is who she was and why she decided to become a police officer in Seattle.
Lexi was born in Seattle and was part of a left-leaning family. She went to alternative Seattle public schools. She was a World Trade Organization protester who was tear gassed in front of the Sheraton Hotel on Sixth Avenue in 1999. Not a likely candidate for the Seattle Police Department, but exactly the kind of person they were seeking.
Lexi served SPD for five years during a period of significant change. Before joining the department, she worked as a physical trainer. That experience shaped her attitude about achieving positive change. She understood real change does not happen overnight and requires more than good intentions. A week or a month in the gym was good, but real change comes slowly and only after committed effort.
She was a change agent. Perhaps the most profound was her participation in the improvement and expansion of SPD’s officer wellness program that is focused on the physical and emotional health of SPD officers. She also believed in leadership training for patrol officers to give them more tools for their work. She and a colleague, Cali Hinzman, set up a website, The Leaderist, that includes podcasts from national experts who speak to the many challenges faced by police officers and innovative approaches to meet them.
We talked with Lexi three or four times a week, usually when she was on her way to or from work. Mostly these calls reported what had happened in her previous shift or what she expected in the next one. But she also talked about her experiences and views of policing. We learned a lot in those conversations about the challenges and opportunities for policing with a focus on social justice. In her memory, we want to share some of these with the community.
She believed the world is not divided between good guys and bad guys. Lexi would say that it should not be us versus them. It should be all of us. Police are part of the community.
Police know the complicated stories behind many of those they arrest for breaking the law. Lexi knew and liked many of the people she met on the street. She would talk with them and hear their stories. She would often tell them about resources that could help and encourage them to seek services.
She understood that modern policing must look a lot different than the Dirty Harry model. The gun is a last resort. Communication is the first tool. De-escalation does not occur without effective communication. She thought this is an area where police training could be improved.
But she was a cop and that meant she arrested people. Detained people often actively resist arrest and must be restrained by force. SPD officers are taught and use tactics to subdue arrestees with minimal danger to themselves or the person being arrested. Lexi regularly taught and practiced these defensive tactics.
She was disheartened by all the messages that demonize police officers. She believed these messages drive unproductive wedges between cops and the people they serve. Police must earn respect, and most officers understand this. But when there are elements in society stating that “all cops are bad,” building connections between cops and communities is that much tougher. This a particular problem when elected officials join the chorus.
Many of our friends were surprised when Lexi decided to become a police officer and often said, “She is exactly the kind of person who should be a cop.” When Lexi heard this, she bristled. Rather receiving this as a compliment, she heard it as an unwarranted degradation of the people she worked with. She said that she was no different than her fellow officers. Over the course of five years and especially since she was killed, we got to see for ourselves what she meant. Seattle should be immensely proud of the women and men who serve in the SPD.
Laird Harris and Rebecca Brenneman are the parents of Lexi Harris.