Three top cops - all women - are shaping the future of law enforcement in Washington State, where they believe embracing differences will make new officers more successful.
Locally, women in law enforcement is no longer a big deal.
The Seattle Police Chief, King County Sheriff and Chiefs in Bothell, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue and Sammamish are all women.
Now their influence is being felt on all law enforcement officers -- statewide -- from their first day of training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien.
“Some of the ways I accomplished my job 40 years ago, I sort of did on the down-low because I didn’t want people laughing at me for policing like a girl,” Sue Rahr, director of the WSCJTC, told KIRO 7 recently.
Rahr has been in law enforcement since 1979, and reached the pinnacle of her agency as elected sheriff of King County.
In 2019, Rahr can now admit she succeeded in part by “policing like a girl.”
“Over time, a lot of my fellow officers could see, well, that kind of works,” she said from her office in Burien. “I think most women are socialized to try and resolve problems, to try and get cooperation.”
However, she said it wasn't always easy.
“I had one training officer say that he expected women will come on board and as soon as they get hurt, they’re going to run away and quit. That didn’t happen,” Rahr said with a smile.
When Rahr finally retired after more than 30 years with King County, it was to become director of the
WSCJTC, where she is responsible for training all of the state’s incoming police officers, except troopers.
This past summer, Rahr hired Lisa Mulligan to be her deputy.
A 34-year veteran of the King County Sheriff's Office, Mulligan told KIRO 7 she’s tired of the entire "women in law enforcement" conversation. Instead, she’d rather focus on “the right people in the right positions at the right time to get the work done.”
Weeks after Mulligan was hired at the WSCJTC, Rahr snatched up another female law enforcement trailblazer.
The day Monica Alexander announced her retirement from the Washington State Patrol, Rahr called to talk to her about managing the Advanced Training Division.
Alexander was the first and only African American woman to be a sergeant, lieutenant and then captain in the WSP’s history. “What an amazing and honorable career I feel like I had with the State Patrol,” Alexander told KIRO 7.
The 23-year WSP veteran believes that having women in leadership positions at the WSCJTC impacts how new recruits are trained. “I think the beauty is we have a lot of men here, too, that are good to balance us out,” she said. “I think everyone should have a seat at the table. I think we make better decisions when you have a group of people that come from different backgrounds, different thought processes.”
With nearly 100 years of combined law enforcement experience, Rahr, Mulligan and Alexander are all well-respected in police work -- state and nationwide -- according to Rex Caldwell, the commander of commission's Basic Training Division. “I think the fact that they’re experienced, caring, competent leaders is more important than gender,” the 34-year Kirkland Police Department veteran said.
Jerrell Wills, another three-decade veteran of the King County Sheriff’s Office, whom Rahr also hired this past summer, believes Washington’s police recruits are learning different lessons because of the diversity of the facility’s command staff. “Absolutely, I think law enforcement looks different, whether it be racial diversity, LGBTQ, females. Law enforcement looks different than it did 31 years ago when I first started,” Wills said.
Which is exactly the message all of the former cops -- now training officials at the WSCJTC -- want to get across.
They hope diversity in training will lead to more diversity in law enforcement.
“We want people to look at law enforcement and see themselves in it because we really need the perspective of every kind of diversity in this profession,” Mulligan said.
Rahr added, “Obviously, gender is a novelty right now. But it’s most important to have a very diverse group of leaders with diverse life experience. I think it’s critical.”
Information about the Criminal Justice Training Commission: https://www.cjtc.wa.gov/
Information on how to become a police officer in Washington State: https://www.how-to-become-a-police-officer.com/states/washington/
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