Seattle police roll out new training before recruits go to academy

Nearly two years after protests over George Floyd’s death and police brutality filled Seattle streets, the Seattle Police Department is rolling out a major change: a new training program called Before the Badge.

It’s a move Victoria Beach, who’s led the African American Community Advisory Council to SPD since 2018, is optimistic about. When she was younger, she said, she had terrible experiences with police.

“I hated them,” she said. “They need to know our history and why we feel the way we do. But I’ve changed. I didn’t want to carry that with me… I took the role to help bridge the gap between the black community and SPD.”

The new training for recruits will be about six weeks ahead of them going to the state’s Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien. Before they learn about criminal law and handling a firearm, the goal is to teach them about relationships, brain science and how to handle themselves.

“When you talk about tactics and law, that’s like two legs that you’re kind of teetering through your career on,” Seattle Police Officer Kim Bogucki said. “If you add wellness and you add community relations, now you have a real stable, you have four legs to go through your career on.”

Bogucki has been with the Seattle Police Department for more than 33 years. She co-founded the If Project, bringing law enforcement together with formerly and currently incarcerated adults. Now, she’ll be bringing recruits together with them and others to learn.

“So the way that you interact with the LGBTQIA community, even understanding what that is,” she said. “The East-African community, the different factions within that community as a female, maybe I don’t want to put my hands on a Muslim person if I have a male officer right here because it’s a sign of disrespect. So how do we teach some of these little cultural nuances that maybe none of us grew up around?”

Bogucki was partners with interim police chief Adrian Diaz back in the early 2000s. She said for recruits to have a long career, mental health is critical — outside of the job and between calls.

“Can you do breathing? Meditation? Praying? Whatever it is that’s the healthy thing for you, how do you reset?” she said.

David Lewis, who currently works to create healthy learning environments for Seattle Public Schools, said that re-set allows officers to adjust their tone and body language and ask people questions.

“Having that person slow down, process, and think, what question you’re asking and answering,” he said, “they’re answering from executive functioning, which is your prefrontal cortex, which is the thinking part of their brain. While they’re processing and using that part of the brain, you’re actually de-escalating that person.”

Recruits already run through scenarios with criminal law in mind at the academy. Lewis, who has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, plans to use scenarios as well, with brain science at the forefront.

“Looking at hey, what went right in a given video? And why is that? And then being able to explain potentially the science of what’s happening with the people that are involved in the videos,” he said.

City leaders seem to be behind the training — even those sharply critical of SPD in the past, like Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who’s chair of the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety & Human Services committee.

“You were one of several councilmembers who voiced support for significant defunding of the Seattle Police Department. How does spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this fall in line with that?” KIRO 7 news reporter Linzi Sheldon asked her.

“So the funding that we reduced from the Seattle Police Department was largely from moving out functions like the 911 center,” Herbold said. “Council understands that we need to continue hiring officers, and in doing so, we need to do everything we can to make sure that they’re ready to do policing work, do community safety work.”

Chief Diaz said the department needs to hire 500 officers over the next five years.

“That’s going to be over half the department that is literally going to be infused with this Before the Badge training,” he said.

“If this training works and I have an interaction with one of these officers, how is this training going to change the way that interaction goes?” Linzi Sheldon asked.

“They’re going to be more cognizant and more mindful of where you’re at and the trauma that you’re dealing with and be able to calm you down,” Diaz said.

Those new skills will be put to the test.

“I’m not 100-percent pro-police,” Victoria Beach said. “I’m here to also hold them accountable.”

Diaz said the city has put aside $250,000 for the pilot program. Training starts Monday, May 23.