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.

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
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When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

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Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!