Conversations offer chance for low-key visits with police
by Mali Main, UW News Lab Intern
James Manning wants to get into your living room.
That’s part of his new job as the Seattle Police Department’s Community Outreach officer for Ballard (and the rest of the North End). The unit was created last year to build relationships between the beat cops who protect the neighborhoods and the people who live in them. Not just in Ballard, but city-wide. Manning joined the unit in June.
“What happens,” Manning explained, “is we never get to meet people except when they are in crisis. I want to let the community know officers are just like them and let officers know that the people in the community, you know, they’re good people.”
One way the Community Outreach unit makes this happen is through “Living Room Conversations.” Someone from the neighborhood opens their living room to Manning, a few officers from the Community Police Team and about 15 or 16 neighbors.
Manning has already led a few Living Room Conversations with Alex Chapackdee, Community Outreach officer for the Southwest Precinct. He is looking forward to his first living room conversation in Ballard. He says they’re fun, because the conversations
“also help the neighbors get to know each other better. Which is really good and important for crime prevention.”
Chapackdee, who has been with the unit since it began, said each Community Outreach officer was “hand-picked“ for the position. “James is a natural when it comes to engaging people,” he said.
Manning pointed out that Community Outreach officers are not a substitute for Community Police Teams, who respond to immediate problems in local neighborhoods. Scott McGalashen, the Community Police Team officer for the North Precinct, wrote in an email: “James is very easygoing and connects with people right away, making them feel comfortable. I saw him in true form last weekend at The Ballard Seafood Fest. I was taking notes.”
Manning also met Ballard residents earlier this month at the Ballard District Council meeting. “I’m really excited to work with him,” said Michelle Rosenthal, lawyer and coordinator of Ballard’s Emergency Preparedness Team. “With James, we will be able to work with him on a community level with regards to program development and safety and things that are larger than the individual.”
Before joining the Community Outreach Unit, Manning spent 14 years in narcotics, listening to wiretaps and doing undercover work. He says he needed a change and working with the community “seemed like a natural thing.”
Four years ago, he started a mentoring program for African-American teenage boys in Covington, where he lives. “I read that only 40 percent of African-American males graduate high school, in some places even less. That really bothered me.”
Now in its fourth year, the program has grown to about 45 students. “This is my first year graduating some of my boys. … It was such a proud moment,” Manning says.
Born in Texas, Manning was raised in a military family and moved around a lot. “They were strict, but they had a lot of love,” Manning says of his parents. “I was not allowed to rebel until I was about 30,” he added with a smile.
He moved to Seattle as an adult; his mother was the director of nursing at the VA Hospital on Beacon Hill. “I’m a Mama’s boy,” he says with a laugh.
He is the father of five children -- three boys and two girls -- in their late teens and early 20s. He also has two dogs: Peyton, a chocolate lab named after his favorite football player Walter, and Lena, a yellow lab, named for singer Lena Horne. This week he took all seven of them camping in Port Townsend.
He also loves to bike, cook and read. His favorite authors are Pat Conway, Walter Mosely and J. California Cooper, because she writes about family. “I’m a family man,” he says.
But what he likes to do best with his free time is golf. “Golf is my mistress,” he jokes. He keeps his clubs in the car. “I love golf. I would want to golf all the time. If you call me up and ask, I will play golf.”
So, if you’d like to host a Living Room conversation, or you want to play a round of golf, talk to Officer James Manning at (206) 233-2636, call his cell phone (206) 423-9952, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.