Seattle police recruits share what they’ve learned from new ‘Before the Badge’ training

SEATTLE — For the first time, we’re hearing from Seattle police recruits about new training they’ve completed with the goal of improving officers’ interactions with the community.

KIRO 7′s Linzi Sheldon first reported on SPD’s “Before the Badge” program in May.

From wellness classes to meeting with people who’ve had trouble with the law to communicating with different community groups, the department’s new training aims to enhance officers’ interactions with the people they serve.

“We’re getting history of Seattle. We’re getting a lot of the top, main problems going on in the city,” said Omar Petty, a Seattle police recruit. “We’re also getting mindfulness, which also shows us how to take care of ourselves, to be better officers for the community.”

Sheldon recently got an exclusive look inside their classroom and spoke with the first three recruits to go through the program: Omar Petty, Scott Gruber and Steve Schenck.

Petty says when he was young, he knew coaches and teachers with law enforcement experience.

And he himself worked 10 years in education at Seattle’s Clover Park High School.

“I worked with at-risk youth, mainly behavior,” said Petty. “Dealing with kids (like) that, it may be their last shot at a normal education.”

So why switch careers now, when police are more scrutinized than ever?

“I like to be part of the problem solving, be part of the solution,” Petty said.

Recruit Scott Gerber described joining the police department as a calling.

“Knowing the staffing levels and seeing everything that’s going on, … I wanted to be able to help,” said Gerber.

Steve Schenck’s grandfather was a Seattle police officer, as is his father.

“I don’t think policing is this stagnant thing,” said Schenck. “I think it has to constantly evolve with how society evolves and how everything we do changes. So I want to be part of that change.”

Like many police departments, SPD has lost hundreds of officers since 2020.

It was criticized over how it handled the protests that summer as well as other use-of-force incidents.

In May, Sheldon asked Police Chief Adrian Diaz about this new training.

“How do you measure success, and how do you measure failure?” asked Sheldon.

“First and foremost, complaints. That interaction, is it a positive interaction? Are we treating people with respect and dignity?” said Diaz. “We’re already measuring people — our department — in areas of use of force, in crisis intervention. If there is a focus on de-escalation, we’re going to start to see ... drops in many of those as well.”

According to SPD, new recruits receive 720 hours of training at the state police academy, known as the Basic Law Enforcement Academy.

Then, recruits receive about 250 hours of post-BLEA training and 560 hours of field training.

The department says Before the Badge adds about 200 hours at the very beginning of recruits’ training, bringing the total amount of training for recruits to about 1730 hours.

But some critics say this training doesn’t go far enough.

“The training is great and is important,” said Howard Gale, one of of the organizers of Seattle Stop, which wants full civilian oversight of police. “I think it’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.”

Gale says while officers have to qualify every year with their service weapon, there is no similar testing requirement for other kinds of skills.

“We don’t see how good is an officer at de-escalating. How good is an officer dealing with someone from a different cultural background,” said Gale. “I think the two pieces that are missing is some kind of real-world test for how much that’s been taken in … and then accountability for when you don’t follow through on that training.”

KIRO 7 asked SPD about that question of testing officers’ crisis, de-escalation or cultural competency skills each year.

The department says the state had no qualification standard for the skills, but the department is bringing in a researcher to look at how SPD could measure them.

Sheldon also reached out to three City Council members who’ve called for police reform and recently voted against money for police recruiting.

But spokespeople for Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant told Sheldon they were unavailable or did not respond to her messages.

As the recruits head to the academy, Petty says he’ll be taking lessons from these classes with him, including what he learned from a man who was in prison for more than 20 years.

“He said, ‘Relationships before resources,’” quoted Petty. “He said, ‘Create those relationships instead of just sending someone to rehab, because you do that and they’ll be right back out doing the same thing.’”