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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

The retiring and incoming directors of Washington’s training arm for peace officers talk policing

The executive director of the state agency that trains peace officers announced Wednesday she is retiring at the end of February.

After Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Executive Director Sue Rahr leaves, former state trooper and current commission employee Monica Alexander will take over as interim executive director.

Alexander quickly rose through the ranks to become the first Black woman promoted to Sergeant in Washington State Patrol history, while Rahr got her start as part of the first wave of women hired to work regular police patrol.

Here’s how Rahr and Alexander feel about the role of policing and the things they hope will change.

‘Honor and nobility’

Rahr spent decades at the King County Sheriff’s office, working her way up through the ranks, starting as an officer at just 22.

“Thankfully, I was young, naive and ignorant and didn’t realize I was part of the first wave,” Rahr said. “I had no career plan. I became a cop for the money. I would like to say I had noble aspirations but that would not be accurate.”

Initially, she became an officer to help save up for law school, but once she was into the profession it was “so much more than I expected.”

“I loved being in a position where frequently during the course of my shift I was sent to handle a problem, figure this out,” Rahr said. “I really enjoyed that. I was hooked on it.”

She worked a wide variety of assignments , from undercover narcotics to internal investigations and commander of the gang unit, as she rose through the ranks.

“Once I got into the upper levels of leadership, that’s when I realized, hey, I can actually do something about some of these problems inside the agency,” Rahr said. “I can actually make changes that really substantially affect the way we do the work.”

She was appointed sheriff in 2005, when Dave Reichert was elected to U.S. Congress. Rahr was elected as King County Sheriff in 2006 and 2010.

In 2012, Rahr decided to retire from the sheriff’s office and accepted the executive director position at the commission.

Upon her hiring as executive director, Rahr said, she wanted to tighten up the basic training because of the issues she saw with her new recruits coming back to the sheriff’s office.

The more she learned, the more questions she had, Rahr said.

The most “profound” thing she learned, Rahr said, is that so many reforms are focused on frontline officers, as if fixing issues with them can fix the whole system.

“That is not the case,” Rahr said. “The problems that people are seeing on the front line are a reflection of the culture, of the leadership and the system that we’ve created.”

So Rahr set out to change the culture of the training the commission offers.

“Instead of focusing on the danger of policing, we focus on the honor and nobility … so we have adapted our symbols to reflect the honor and nobility of the profession,” Rahr said. “We still train officers to be safe. We still train them about the dangers that they face, but those are skill sets. That shouldn’t be the fundamental underpinning of policing.”

Alexander has same ‘burning fire inside’

Over the last nine years, Rahr has worked to recruit a team of people at the academy who are “open-minded, innovative leaders.”

Those people include Alexander, 59, whom Rahr recommended to be appointed as interim executive director in January, with the commission unanimously approving the recommendation. The process of selecting a permanent director will be discussed at the March commission meeting and a permanent appointment is anticipated to take place in June, according to commission staff.

“She has the same kind of burning fire inside that she’s not going to stop just because she runs into a roadblock,” Rahr said of Alexander.

As a young adult, Alexander wanted to become a clothing designer, a hairstylist and a makeup artist, she said. So she opened her own hair salon but then felt a desire to travel. She decided “on a dare” to become a flight attendant, Alexander said.

Alexander flew for United Airlines and was based in Los Angeles when the Rodney King riots happened.

“The riot coupled with all of the video of Rodney King and the beating and all of that was just really, it was traumatizing,” Alexander said. “So I convinced myself that you don’t stand on the sidelines, you kind of get involved.”

Alexander began looking at different law enforcement agencies and settled on the Washington State Patrol, where she began as a cadet in 1996.

Throughout all of her careers, Alexander has enjoyed talking to people the most, she said.

“A lot of what I liked about being a hairdresser was the people I encountered and the things I learned from people, and just the diversity of the people that I serve,” Alexander said.

She remains the only Black woman ever to reach the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain in the Washington State Patrol.

“It was kind of disappointing. I always wanted to look back and see somebody behind me. I wanted to see someone else like me on my heels,” Alexander said. “It wasn’t like that, because I was sergeant for 10 years and no one, not another Black female was promoted.”

For more than a decade, Alexander has worked with lawmakers to craft legislation like the Survivor Bill of Rights, which requires law enforcement to undergo specialized, trauma-informed training, a bill that created the statewide Sexual Assault Kit Tracking system and, in 2019, she worked on a bill that funded a new high-throughput lab to help reduce the state’s rape kit backlog.

In 2019, Alexander was able to secure two tribal liaison positions at WSP and authored the Missing & Murdered Native American Women Report.

That same year, Alexander retired from WSP and joined the commission as the Advanced Training Division program manager.

All that experience, Alexander said, has prepared her to step into this new role.

“It’s taught me to listen, listen a lot, listen closely to the community, as well as law enforcement, and try to find that balance,” she said.

Alexander said she is most excited to reap the benefits of Rahr’s hard work assembling a great team.

“I am most excited about the amazing team I get to work with,” Alexander said. “They are open, honest, humble, candid, loyal, to the profession and the community they serve, and they are intelligent. With this team I believe we can move mountains.”

Another goal of Alexander’s is to be more transparent to the public about what the commission does, and policing as a whole.

“I want people to feel like this training facility belongs to the people, because it does,” Alexander said. “And I want them to feel comfortable asking questions and making suggestions.”

While Alexander is currently only the interim director, she plans to apply for the permanent position, a move of which Rahr is very supportive.

In her next phase of retirement, Rahr, 64, plans to watch her grandkids while their mother goes back to work. She plans to continue her involvement with several national organizations focused on police reform, like the Council on Criminal Justice and the National Police Foundation. Eventually, she plans to write a textbook on the history of race and policing with her son Pete Rahr, who is a history teacher and recently graduated with a master’s degree from Seattle University.

With Rahr’s departure at the end of February looming, Alexander said she is nervous and excited to take over the role. She just hopes to get it right.

“The way to get it right in my mind is to listen and to really, you know, solicit input and to be humble enough to know and own when that didn’t go exactly the way I wanted it to, to be able to say that,” Alexander said. “And then forge on, because I’m not going to stop, not gonna give up.”

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