Bellevue ‘Cool Cop’ rebuilds trust, one kickflip at a time
It’s not something you see every day: a police officer in full uniform ripping it up at the skate park. But for Bellevue’s officer Craig Hanaumi, it’s a weekly habit, at least.
For the 10-year veteran of the Bellevue force, his trips to the indoor skate park off Bel-Red Road aren’t just fun. He’s the Crossroads Community Station Officer, and outreach like that is part of his job.
He grew up skating in Hawaii, but Hanaumi hadn’t touched a board in two decades, until a few years ago when he got a nuisance call about skaters filming tricks in a bank parking lot. Instead of just kicking them out, he asked what moves they were doing and even tried out one of their boards.
He still had to escort them off bank property, but those few extra minutes chatting them up made all the difference. The skaters had filmed the whole interaction and it blew up on YouTube, with hundreds of commenters calling him “the cool cop,” saying that maybe police officers aren’t so bad after all.
So, Hanaumi started cruising by skate parks, where he met Akash Rishi. Rishi works at the city-owned indoor Skate Park and admits he was a little nervous seeing a cop walk in.
“I jokingly said ‘you know, if you want to give it a try, just let me know.’ And he was like ‘ah, I’m just here to watch, man,'” says Rishi. “And he totally hustled me. I gave him tips for like 15 minutes straight, finally got him on the board, went out there with him, and he was like ‘okay, okay.’ And then just threw it down and went straight down the ramp and just went for it. I was blown away. It was, like, the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Akash.
That’s Hanaumi’s secret weapon: he’ll play dumb, ask people to teach him something, and before you know it, you forget the uniform and just focus on the person inside it.
Hanaumi says making these kinds of connections is a big emphasis within the Bellevue police department as a whole, whether at the park, helping teach trombone at Newport High School, or teaching free Brazilian Jiu Jitsu self-defense classes.
There are two full-time community station officers devoted to outreach, but everyone on patrol is encouraged to use time between calls to find a way to connect, or take a few extra minutes to get out of the car and talk to the people they serve.
In fact, that’s a big reason the department is bringing back bike patrol officers after a five-year hiatus. That extra time being visible deters crime, but also pays off in ways that might not be apparent right away.
For example, Hanaumi recalls one instance when he took the time to befriend a troubled teen with gang ties. that teen then came forward with a tip that broke open a cold case drive-by shooting.
“The reason why that happened was because of all the time that was spent before that trying to build a positive relationship,” says Hanaumi. “And I believe that if that hadn’t happened, then that person probably wouldn’t have been comfortable coming forward to provide any information.”
Hanaumi also says getting to know more people on the job helps officers relate to them, and can make them more able to de-escalate incidents before they get violent. It’s becoming especially helpful around the fast-growing Eastside, which is getting more and more diverse.
However, the extra steps involved in community oriented policing require a lot of resources, and, it can be dangerous.
“To put yourself in the position to build rapport, it’s not always the most tactical thing to do. And that’s the danger of what we do,” he said, noting that cops don’t know what a person is going to do for each different call.
“There are enough circumstances or situations that have happened in other places in the country where officers get ambushed in a way that is, initially, set up to be just like a regular contact of one person and another person talking to each otherm,” Hanaumi said. “And then the gun comes out or the knife comes out, and the officer gets killed.”
Still, the risk is part of the job. And Hanaumi is going to keep going, trying to build trust one kickflip at a time.
“Just being in the same space, and being comfortable – you know, no big deal, we’re all the same,” Hanaumi said.