After serving in the Marine Corps and National Guard and earning a bachelor of science degree at The Evergreen State College, Bryan Bright narrowed his job search down to the Seattle police and the Oregon State Police.
Concerned he might be assigned to Eastern Oregon, where he and his wife felt it would be difficult to give their two children a Jewish upbringing, he chose Seattle.
Now, after spending the intervening 12 years as a patrol officer in Seattle’s North End, Bright has been named the police department’s liaison to the city’s Jewish community.
“One of my first goals is to go to all the locations [of Jewish institutions in the city] and make introductions and get to meet people,” he said in an interview in the North Precinct lobby.
About four months into the job, Bright says he has visited the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the local office of the Anti-Defamation League, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, “and I think all the locations in the North Precinct” in his new capacity, with the exception of two congregations.
Besides those two shuls, he is eager to visit synagogues in other parts of town and other community groups and institutions, a process he expects will take three to four months to complete.
Bright also was happy to learn of a two-day training program on security issues the Federation is sponsoring for public information officers in January.
“I made sure our media-relations section knew about the training,” he said.
The SAFE Washington statewide Jewish security program “is another thing that I’ve made people aware of — the [police] Community Outreach Office, the chain of command — that if there’s ever an incident at a Jewish location after-hours and we can’t find a Jewish representative, SAFE Washington has a 24-hour contact number where somebody can be reached,” Bright said.
The liaison officer program was started by former Chief Norm Stamper about two decades ago with the African American community, said Lt. Carmen Best, a 20-year Seattle police veteran who has run the outreach office for two years. Others added over the years are for the East African, Korean, Southeast Asian, Filipino, Latino, Native American, Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer communities.
“I’m excited to have [Bright] do that,” she said.
Like Bright, each liaison remains responsible for all of his or her regular patrol duties. Police designate a liaison only when “the community decides that’s something they want to do” and an officer expresses interest in the role, she added.
“It’s communities that they’re associated with,” Best said. “It’s work they enjoy doing.”
Unlike Bright, all the others deal with an advisory council that is formed as part of the liaison program, she said. Best and Bright said a similar council for the Jewish community would probably be superfluous.
“I think the Jewish community had made a lot of those [internal] connections without having a liaison officer,” Bright said. “The department didn’t necessarily know that there was this [degree of] connection within the community.”
There are a few liaisons between the Jewish community and police departments nationwide: San Francisco, Philadelphia and Phoenix have long had such programs and shomrim, or guard, societies, in places with larger Jewish communities such as New York work with local police as well.
At this early stage, Bright’s is unclear as to how liaison work might extend into Jewish neighborhoods and institutions in suburban areas covered by Bellevue police, the King County Sheriff’s office and other local agencies.
“This is pretty new for me. I’m not sure yet,” he said. “It’s an intriguing idea.
“I don’t know what kind of jurisdictional issues it’ll create. I would certainly be willing to work with the community in Bellevue or on the Eastside, but jurisdictionally I don’t know if that would create any conflicts.”
Bright grew up in the Kansas City area and his wife in a suburb of St. Louis. They live with their son, 15, and daughter, who recently turned 13, near Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma, about 40 miles from his 3 a.m.-to-noon patrol job. The family is active in Temple Beth El in Tacoma.
Bright, who especially enjoys digital forensics investigations, said he became curious about a liaison position after working to establish contacts throughout the North End, including one at the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder in April.
“The second time the rabbi called me at home, off-duty, I thought, ‘You know, we have this Community Outreach Section,’” Bright said. “‘I wonder if they have a liaison officer that the Jewish community could contact whenever they have questions that are not necessarily an emergency … some way that they could bring up issues or make requests of the department?’”
He proceeded to contact the department, learned there was no such liaison, and asked to be considered should one be selected. About four months later, he said, “I got an email back and they were saying, ‘The job’s yours if you want it.’”