SEATTLE — As the Seattle Police Department faces an unprecedented staffing crisis, it's turning to a new program to help recruit officers and re-imagine policing.
"Before the Badge" is a new training program that focuses on interpersonal relationships and wellness before a new recruit ever gets a badge or a gun. The program includes meetings with local community groups and neighborhood leaders, as well as classroom sessions where recruits learn some tough lessons about the history of anti-Black bias in policing.
KING 5's Jake Whittenberg sat in on one class where six new recruits learned about the history of racism in America.
"The community expects something different from us, and that it's our job to serve them and adapt to what they need," said Jack Yang, a new SPD recruit who is just beginning the training.
Yang is from Tacoma but chose Seattle to begin his training in Seattle because of the new "Community Policing" model put in place by Chief Adrian Diaz.
"Seattle police is the only department I applied for," said Yang. "This is my vision of what the police force should be."
The group discussion on this day was led by SPD Sgt. Ron Campbell and Victoria Beach, Chair of the department's African American Community Advisory Council.
Beach holds discussions with the new recruits and gets to some tough questions about the history of anti-black bias in policing.
Growing up in Seattle herself, she and her family have experienced police bias too.
"I never dreamed you could never tell me that I would sit in a room with an officer," she said. "I would not believe it. Now, there are some I consider my family."
Chief Diaz hopes programs like this will help reshape SPD, and attract new officers.
The department is still losing more officers than it can hire. So far in 2023, 16 employees have left SPD for a variety of reasons. Only 10 have been hired to fill those vacancies. The goal for this year is to hire 125 total officers.
Even if that happens, staffing levels will still be far lower than where Diaz wants them to be to adequately patrol the streets of Seattle.
Through Before the Badge training, Sgt. Campbell says he hopes the new recruits will set a new positive example for the veteran officers.
"I'm challenging these new recruits to be leaders and lead by example when they go out there," he said. "We're teaching them to show the veteran officers that this is a better way to police."