Former King County Sheriff: Amid calls for reform, ‘this is the best time to come into policing’

Feb 18, 2021, 3:02 PM
Suh Rahr, King County Sheriff, police reform...
Former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. (AP Photo/File)
(AP Photo/File)

Calls for police reform have grown over the last year, and in the midst of that, the executive director for Washington state’s police academy, Sue Rahr, believes that political climate affords prospective officers a unique opportunity.

Rahr has held her position with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission for nearly a decade, a job she will soon retire from. For the next generation of police officers, she has words of encouragement for those who are concerned about the uncertain future of the profession.

“This is the best time to come into policing — we are truly at the beginning of a new era,” she told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

Before she was training Washington’s police officers, Rahr spent over 30 years serving in the King County Sheriff’s Office, culminating in a seven-year period as sheriff. Over those many years in law enforcement, she’s seen the institution of policing go through its fair share of growing pains.

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“I came in with good intentions, but there was some very bad outcomes because of the kind of work that I did as a police officer and my generation of police officers did,” she described. “We had the best intentions of the world, but we didn’t understand how the system was basically set up to go against what helps communities.”

That history of good intentions with negative outcomes came to a boiling point in 2020, a moment in history that Rahr describes as a catalyst for today’s officers to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

“I’ve watched the changes that have happened in law enforcement, and since I’ve been here, nothing this substantial and deep has happened,” she said. “I would equate what we’re going through now with 1964 when the Civil Rights Act passed — the world shifted and policing shifted. This is nearly 50 years later and this is another major shift.”

That’s something she believes will help policing evolve in a positive way, both for communities and officers themselves.

As for the incoming crop of officers in Washington, “a majority of them are coming in with the right kind of heart.”

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“They want to do something meaningful,” she said. “They want to change the world, and that’s exactly what we need. The way we’re moving in law enforcement now, people in law enforcement are going to have more room to do good.”

That will also take a significant amount of work across nearly every facet of the criminal justice system, from improving mental health services to ensuring officers can better connect with the communities they’re meant to serve.

And while it will likely take years of hard work, Rahr sees it as integral to yielding a more equitable and effective crop of new officers.

“We have got to fix a bad criminal justice system that is not set up to make the community safer, and for the new people coming into law enforcement, my hope is that we create or reimagine or fix the system for better outcomes.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Former King County Sheriff: Amid calls for reform, ‘this is the best time to come into policing’