Ross: ‘Police used as substitute for properly funding social services’

Feb 2, 2023, 7:44 AM | Updated: 9:14 am


SEATTLE, WA - JULY 01: Police detain a person as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area outside of the Seattle Police Department's vacated East Precinct on July 1, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Police reported making at least 31 arrests while clearing the CHOP area this morning. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

I think the single most important interview on the air yesterday was Sue Rahr’s appearance on the Gee & Ursula Show.

Sue began her career as a police officer, eventually becoming King County Sheriff and finally the head of the State Criminal Justice Training Commission before she retired in 2021.

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And now that she’s retired, she is free to speak her mind on the reason we keep seeing abuses like the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. It’s rooted in an American culture that is fed up with crime but refuses to fix the underlying problem.

“They don’t want to see the tents on the street. They don’t want to see the needles in the park. They don’t want to see that stuff, so let’s call on the police and clean it up. So we don’t have to look at the outcomes of what we’ve created. By not taking care of our whole community,” Rahr said.

The way I look at it, in America, when you fall off the trapeze, there is no guarantee the safety net will catch you.

There’s this idea that a national safety net is for sissies. We believe you should be free to fail, but we take that idea too far. We let kids fail in school. We let families fall apart. We let people who lose the economic game sink into despair. Since we define ourselves as the land of opportunity, we figure if you lose, it’s because you deserve to lose.

And we give the police the job of covering up the consequences.

“And so where we’ve come to as a nation is we’re using police as a substitute for properly funding the social service network that we need,” Rahr said.

Our conservative aversion to a nanny state has pushed us toward creating a police force that is focused not on empowering people to succeed but on controlling them when they fail. And it’s not surprising that sometimes that control will go too far.

“Most of the people I know that have gone into policing are good people that want to do the right thing. But every time there’s a spike in crime, or there’s an issue, there’s political pressure and pressure from upper leadership and law enforcement to get in there and suppress it and show the community statistics about how many arrests we’ve made,” Rahr said. “And then we can all go pat ourselves on the back and say, you know, aren’t we awesome?

“But the real drivers of violent crime (of most crime) are communities that are in disarray. For a myriad of political and social reasons, we grossly underfund most of the social services that are necessary to keep the community healthy,” Rahr continued.

So there it is from former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. She believes we have to change the culture of policing from control and suppression to healing and building and spend whatever it takes to do that – or just admit we prefer things the way they are.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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