Assistant Chief Perry Tarrant will head the 3,000 mostly African-American police chiefs and sheriffs that make up the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
Perry Tarrant knows he has a unique perspective on many of the divisive national issues over policing.
As a black man and assistant chief for the Seattle Police Department,the 56-year-old Tarrant understands the fear and anxiety that many people of color feel during police interactions, as well as the frustration officers feel trying to gain thetrust of minority communities.
Bridging this divide is one of Tarrant’s main goals as the newly elected president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), which aims to “ensure equity in the administration of justice,” according to its website.
Perry Tarrant bio
Current title: Assistant Chief of the Special Operations Bureau for the Seattle Police Department
Background: Tarrant spent 34 years with the Tucson, Ariz., Police Department, working in patrol, the K-9 unit, SWAT team, bomb squad, aviation and internal affairs. In 2014, he left for Yakima, where he coordinated the city’s gang-free initiative and emergency preparedness.
Education: Master’s from Northern Arizona University (NAU), a Certificate of Graduate Study in Criminal Justice from the University of Virginia and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Arizona.
“There has to be dialogue, and the dialogue is going to make both sides uncomfortable, but ultimately we can’t move beyond where we are currently in time without conversation,” Tarrant said during an interview. “And there has to be transparency in order to build trust and reduce fear.”
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Trust and fear have been at the forefront of the national conversation after recent police shootings of black men and the targeting of police by gunmen in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La. Tarrant believes NOBLE, through its outreach programs, can help foster understanding between police and African Americans.
Tarrant, who commands the Police Department’s Special Operations Bureau, started his tenure as president about two weeks ago after serving as national first vice president.
Originally from Dallas, Tarrant spent 34 years with the Tucson, Ariz., Police Department, working in patrol, the K-9 unit, SWAT team, bomb squad, aviation and internal affairs. In 2014, he left for Yakima, where he coordinated the city’s gang-free initiative and emergency preparedness.
Tarrant didn’t always want to work in law enforcement. He originally studied physics engineering before getting his degree in political science with a minor in counterterrorism at the University of Arizona, and a master’s in administration at Northern Arizona University.
“Being a cop was never on my radar,” he said.
It wasn’t until Tarrant was pulled over by police in Tucson that he realized he wanted to enter the field to change the way police work with the community. He said the officers who stopped him were unnecessarily rude — and that stuck.
Now Tarrant hopes to continue to have those “difficult conversations” that will bridge minority communities and law enforcement — melding two communities he’s deeply invested in.
Tarrant said NOBLE has 3,000 members spread across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and the Bahamas. The organization represents chief executive officers and command-level law-enforcement officials from federal, state, county, municipal law-enforcement agencies, and criminal-justice practitioners, according to its website.
In light of the recent violence and tensions between law enforcement and some in the African-American community, Tarrant said it is especially important for NOBLE to build up its local chapters to help the healing process.
“All these events of late: Dallas, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights … every one is local to that community. We can talk about it as part of a national conversation, but the greatest hurt and the greatest need for healing are within those communities,” Tarrant said. “NOBLE has chapters in those areas and intends to be part of the solution.”
He said NOBLE will work to increase communication between law enforcement and the communities they serve and build on the tenets of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing — whose areas of focus include building trust, officer safety and wellness, and the future of community policing, among others.
NOBLE is going to continue its community-engagement program, which he said centers on public meetings for youth focusing on what they can expect during interactions with officers and what their rights are, among other topics.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who hired Tarrant, said in a department statement that leadership is critical right now in policing.
“For over three decades NOBLE has been at the leading edge of law enforcement with its commitment to justice and reform,” she said in the statement. “I look forward to working with Chief Tarrant as he continues this legacy.”
Tarrant said the Seattle Police Department is a model for de-escalation, where officers are aware of situations that could become violent and work to decrease factors that cause fear and stress. The department enacted a use-of-force policy in 2014 that focuses on de-escalation techniques.
Tarrant said there are some steps, like de-escalation tactics, that officers can take to make policing better, but that isn’t the only area that needs improvement.
Tarrant participated in a discussion at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week about reforms to the criminal-justice system, and the role of police in that system. He said mandatory minimum sentences take away a judge’s ability to give appropriate sentences to criminals, and that a lack of integration support for those leaving prison means there is a high probability they will continue to commit crimes.
Apart from the criminal-justice system, he said people need to “delve into how we treat each other on a social and societal level.”
“People expect the police to solve a lot of issues that are well outside of the average officer’s skill set and the resources available to them,” he said. “That is really what’s frustrating — policing is just one aspect of the criminal-justice system.”