Sue Rahr’s vision for police reform is bold, compassionate, and achievable.
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​Is it possible to get to a place where police officers serve as guardians rather than warriors? Sue Rahr thinks so.

If we believe 1950s TV and Norman Rockwell, the local police department in America used to be a friendly part of the neighborhood.

Over the last few decades, that's changed dramatically. Crime rates are at their lowest in decades, but citizen distrust of the police has never been higher. Police departments are increasingly militarized, with weapons that wouldn't be out of place on a battlefield. While many police officers are just and fair protectors, some officers are guilty of racial profiling that unfairly targets young black men. Many citizens feel as if they're more likely to see police departments protect their own officers instead of real justice being served.


There are different ways of looking at the disconnect between the police and the public they are sworn to protect. One is to let it be and not acknowledge that something isn't right. Another is to admit that things are broken and embrace systemic reform.

A retired sheriff and the executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, Sue Rahr walks the second path, attempting to change the system from within.

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Sue Rahr is a multi-term sheriff, and she's leading a change in the way cops are trained in Washington. A Starbucks original series.

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rahr served with Washington state's King County Sheriff's Office for 25 years before she was elected as the state's first female sheriff in 2005. Rahr retired after a dozen years in that role, but her work was far from over. In 2012 she started working with the Criminal Justice Training Commission, where she overhauled their training programs. By 2014, she was appointed to President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a role she served in until 2015.

Under Rahr's leadership, the training program for Washington state police recruits tries a different approach — based on Plato.

"In Plato's vision of a perfect society — in a republic that honors the core of democracy — the greatest amount of power is given to those called the Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy," Rahr is quoted as saying in a report.

Retired Sheriff Sue Rahr. All images via Starbucks Upstanders, used with permission.

Before Rahr's tenure, the 10,000 police trainees who attended the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission each year would go through a five-month bootcamp-based program that was designed to make them into obedient warriors. It included, among other things, ritual public humiliation and physical punishments.

What sometimes resulted when officers were integrated into the community was predictable — and avoidable.

As Rahr wrote in a paper in 2015, "Despite the way they were treated during their training, we expect [officers] to treat the powerless people they encounter in the community with dignity and respect. Why are we then surprised when some officers treat both suspects and citizens with the disdain and detachment they saw modeled by those in power at the academy?"

A new graduate of the Washington state police training program celebrates with his family as Sue Rahr and others look on.

Under the new program, trainees are treated less like soldiers and more like team members. Instead of public humiliation by their commanding officers, they're given a pocket constitution to remind them of the social purpose of their role. The emphasis on physical training remains, but it is supplemented with responsible weapons training and new programs like LEED (Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity) and Blue Courage, a self-care program designed to help officers manage stress and avoid burnout.  

This new way of training recruits is still in its early days. A five-year study to determine its effectiveness began in 2014 and won’t deliver results until 2020.

In the meantime, there are many challenges ahead, including from Rahr's fellow officers. When her new program was introduced, nearly half of the training staff quit in protest. In an interview with NPR, Rahr revealed that some officers and police administrators have refused to read the presidential task force report, let alone implement its recommendations. Still, Rahr isn't giving up.

Police reform is not going to be easy or quick. But Rahr's program shows that there is hope and that there are ways to change the system from within.

As Charlotte smoulders, and tensions are never higher, it is good to know that many people are thinking about ways we can move forward.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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