The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has introduced a unique training program as part of the Before the Badge initiative, which is aimed at fostering stronger community relationships and enhancing officer wellness before new recruits officially become police officers.
Launched in May 2022, this program has already worked with approximately 70 recruits, with the goal of improving community trust and engagement.
The program is designed to train and prepare police recruits for the rigors of law enforcement while ensuring they build strong connections with the communities they will serve.
Unlike traditional police training, Before the Badge focuses on the human element of policing such as building interpersonal relationships and developing officer wellness alongside law enforcement tactics.
A recent visit to Seattle’s Central District neighborhood by the KOMO News team exemplified the program’s core principles.
There, a group of five police recruits engaged with local business owners, learning about their neighborhoods, cultures and any historical interactions they may have had with the SPD.
Officials say this hands-on approach allows recruits to connect with the people they will serve, long before they are sworn in.
According to the city’s official website, the Before the Badge program consists of three essential components: community engagement, wellness training and understanding the department.
Regarding community engagement, recruits meet with community groups to have open and honest discussions about policing in Seattle. These conversations aim to provide valuable insights into community expectations and challenges.
As for wellness training, the program works with the SPD Wellness Unit to equip recruits with tools to cope with the stresses of police work.
As mental and emotional well-being are crucial aspects of the training, officers are ensured that they can effectively interact with the public.
To understand the SPD, recruits learn about SPD precincts, officers, career opportunities and leadership structures. Additionally, they explore the historical context of policing, gender responsiveness and the science of relationship-based policing.
The SPD believes that Before the Badge will provide recruits with a deeper understanding of the diverse communities they will serve and protect, laying the foundation for successful careers as Seattle police officers.
Bridgette Johnson, owner of Central Cafe & Juice Bar in the Central District, expressed her support for the program.
“I want the police to come, I need the police, we need police officers who care and thinking out of the box,” Johnson stressed. “People want to know that we know you, and we can talk to you.”
Shane Schlosser, one of the recruits, highlighted the value connecting with community members.
“If this is the neighborhood I know I’m supposed to protect and know the people in it, it makes me better at protecting the neighborhood,” Schlosser said.
According to the SPD police chief, the Before the Badge program was launched as part of a nationwide recruiting campaign but faced challenges in hiring new officers.
While they made 41 new hires this year, they also experienced 68 separations, reflecting the broader challenges in recruiting law enforcement officers.
Before the Badge is now a prerequisite for all new police recruits before they can attend the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission for their mandatory 720-hour Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) training.
Victoria Beach, chair of the SPD African American Advisory Council, hopes the program will help future officers understand the community’s perspective and build trust.
“They want them to understand them, know why they fear the police, why they don’t like them,” Beach said.