Sue Rahr, who steered Washington state’s police academy away from traditional military training, was named Thursday to President Obama’s task force on building trust between police and communities throughout the country.
Rahr, the former King County sheriff who took over as executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in 2012, captured widespread attention for shifting the academy from fashioning warriors in a military mold to training “guardians” of communities.
“I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to serve my country and contribute to the process of building public trust in the police,’’ Rahr said in a statement. “I’m excited to share the ideas and research my extraordinary team has been developing at the academy. ”
Rahr will join Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, created in the aftermath of national upheaval over recent grand-jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y, to not indict white police officers in the deaths of two African-American men. The fatal police shooting of a 12-year-old African-American boy last month in Cleveland also was cited in the decision.
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The 11-member task force has been asked to present a report and recommendations by March to bolster the relationship between police and the public and reduce crime. It will hold its first meeting in Washington, D.C., in mid-January.
Obama, who signed an executive order Thursday creating the task force, earlier selected Charles Ramsey, the police commissioner in Philadelphia, and Laurie Robinson, a professor of criminology, law and society at George Mason University in Virginia, who previously served as an assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department, to head the group.
The task force will work with federal, state, tribal and local officials, technical advisers, young leaders and nongovernmental organizations, using modern technology to engage with the public, White House officials said in a statement.
In citing the events in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland, the White House noted the importance of “strong, collaborative relationships” between local police and the communities they protect.
Rahr, in an interview with The Seattle Times last year, explained the changes taking place at the state Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien, which trains all officers in the state except the State Patrol.
“This is not about preparing soldiers to go to war. It’s a different role,” said Rahr, who has served more than 30 years in law enforcement, including as King County’s first female sheriff from 2005 to 2012.
While recruits still learn the basics of police work, such as handcuffing, writing reports and handling firearms, the academy has placed an increased emphasis on expressing empathy, following constitutional requirements and treating citizens with respect and dignity.
Rahr, while sheriff, introduced a new training program in 2011 called L.E.E.D. — for listen, explain, equity and dignity. Ultimately adopted by the Sheriff’s Office and the Seattle Police Department, it put a premium on verbal skills and de-escalation techniques.
At that time, Rahr noted research had shown that despite better training of law-enforcement officers and lower crime rates, public trust in police still lagged. People need to tell “their side of the story,” she said, and police officers need to better explain what they are doing and why.
When she moved to the training commission job, Rahr made L.E.E.D. a central element of the academy’s curriculum.
In a statement, Jenny Durkan, the former U.S. attorney in Seattle, praised Obama’s appointment of Rahr.
“This is great news. Sue Rahr is an exceptional leader and a great appointment,” said Durkan, who helped craft a 2012 consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department to adopt reforms aimed at curbing excessive force and biased policing.
“She has great experience in both policing and training of next generation officers,” Durkan said. “She knows what cops need to do their jobs, and understands one of those things is a strong bond with the community they serve. Sue has lead the nation in developing training with the vision of police as guardians, not warriors.”
Plans for Obama’s task force were outlined Thursday in a conference call with Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, and Ron Davis, director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), who will serve as executive director of the task force.
“We all recognize these problems will not be solved quickly” or prevent controversial events, Jarrett said, while citing a “sense of urgency” to develop recommendations that won’t sit on a shelf.
Noting what she described as the diverse makeup of the task force, which includes community leaders and police officials from around the country, Jarrett said she expected the members to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
Among those named to the task force was Constance “Connie” Rice, a civil rights attorney and co-director of an organization called the Advancement Project. She played an instrumental role in guiding Los Angeles through a consent decree with the Justice Department to address police abuses, which was hailed for changing community perceptions of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In 2012, then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn tapped Rice to advise him as the city entered into its consent decree.