SPD detective using chess to help teach kids life lessons

Her nickname sounds like a tasty confection, but this Seattle Police detective is one tough “cookie” whose life’s work has been to instill purpose in children.

Her given name is Denise Bouldin.

But everybody in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood knows her simply as “Detective Cookie.”

That community is creating a park devoted to the game of chess to honor her work in a neighborhood more often associated with violence.

Everywhere Detective Cookie goes in Rainier Beach, someone is calling her name. Even during a television interview about her favorite topic, the game of chess.

“We love you,” someone yells as they drive by.

“I love you, too,” Detective Cookie replies.

It is a measure of the impact Denise Bouldin, “Detective Cookie,” has had on this neighborhood and the children who live here. All of it through a game invented 1,500 years ago to teach strategy to military commanders.

Since 2006, she has used chess, under the aegis of the Seattle Police Department’s community outreach program, to teach Rainier Beach children just how much they are worth.

“It’s a sport where you don’t have to be the fastest the biggest, the tallest, the bravest, the strongest,” she says. “You just sit down and you play. You don’t even have to know the person’s language. And I tell you, Chess Club has brought many people together that would have never talked to each other, never say ‘hi’ to each other, never play a game of chess with each other.”

Detective Cookie is an unlikely evangelist for the game of kings — for police officers, too, for that matter.

She grew up in the projects in Chicago and witnessed there the sometimes-dark side of law enforcement.

“As a Black female, I have experienced some of this stuff growing up,” said Detective Cookie. “I have been stopped for no reason. I’ve been in the car with my dad, and he was pulled over for no reason.”

But then in high school, she met a cop.

“He was so wonderful, so nice and kind,” she said. “He would buy kids food if they didn’t have money. So, at that point, that’s when I decided I wanted to be a police officer. And I wanted to be a police officer just like him.”

In between, she danced on the TV show, Soul Train. She became a model and was even featured in the Black fan favorite, Jet Magazine.

But her most enduring legacy will almost certainly be the park that will soon bear her name, a park devoted solely to chess.

“And again, this is Detective Cookie’s Chess Park,” she insists. “Not Detective Cookie’s playground in a Chess Park. No swings. No sliding boards. This is a Chess Park.”

If Detective Cookie’s Chess Club began here at Rainier Beach Library, her career will likely end in this neighborhood as well. The place that has become her adopted home, a home where she has made an indelible mark.

“I have that kind of rapport,” she says. “I have earned it. Yes, over 41 years on this Seattle Police Department, I have earned it.”

Forty-one years and counting.

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