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'Cool cop' Craig Hanaumi skates with teens to build trust in Bellevue community

Officer Craig Hanaumi is strengthening ties between the Bellevue, Washington, community and police enforcement through some nontraditional methods.
/ Source: TODAY

Nearly six years ago, Officer Craig Hanaumi got a call that a group of teenagers was trespassing in a bank parking lot, and filming videos of themselves performing skateboarding tricks. But instead of kicking them out right away, he joined them. And he’s been joining them on a weekly basis ever since at the Bellevue Skatepark in Washington.

The teens were eventually escorted out by Hanaumi, but not before they had a chance to record his friendly interaction with them. The video was posted on YouTube, where it collected more than 100,000 views, and positive comments, including one labeling Hanaumi “the coolest cop ever.”

For Hanaumi, 40, visits to the skate park are about more than just having fun. They're part of an effort to cultivate a healthy relationship with neighbors — youth in particular.

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“It was easy to build a rapport with them because I could actually understand what they were talking about,” Hanaumi told TODAY. “I realized from that point on that skating was something I could use as a skill set to improve upon relationships with them.”

Indeed, his efforts attracted the praise of Bellevue Skatepark employee Akash Rishi, who shared a photo of Hanaumi on his Instagram feed. "Y'all can believe what you want," read part of the caption. "I know for a fact that there's good cops out there."

When asked what motivated him to join in on the skating fun that day, Hanaumi fondly referred to his upbringing in Hawaii. “From the ages of 10 to 13, all I did was skate every day,” he said. “We were always trespassing because there were no skate parks, so I saw myself as a kid again in that situation.”

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Hanaumi, nearing his 10th year with Bellevue’s police force, transitioned from serving as a patrol officer to a community station officer after he moved to Washington in 2007. He describes the job as “nontraditional,” as it allows him ample time and space to focus on prevalent, but potentially overlooked, social issues affecting the community at large.

“We’re a liaison for the community,” Hanaumi said of community station officers. “We can identify a problem and become the constant contact for it. Our job is about outreach.”

The allotted luxury of time, Hanaumi explained, is the core difference between a community station officer and a patrol officer. Everyday responsibilities like filing reports and being dispatched are still part of the job, but within his division, officers are able to devote long-term commitment to improving ties between civilians and law enforcement, as well as preventing recurring issues that could take a dangerous turn.

“Building a rapport makes people more comfortable to come to us with information that we should know,” he said, “and that makes it easier for us to de-escalate a problem.”

Hanaumi is no stranger to providing service for the community. After obtaining a degree in psychology, he began working to help children with autism in local schools and group homes, and getting involved with his local YMCA. It was that desire to help others that led him to a career devoted to outreach on an even larger scale.

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Now, he's hoping that such efforts will have the power to one day alleviate the strained relationships between police officers and their community. Speaking about the many incidents of police brutality that have created a landscape of tension and violence in recent years, Hanaumi is hoping that more positive stories like his are highlighted in the media.

“The amount of negative coverage is overwhelming, but in comparison, thousands of positive interactions happen across the country every day,” he said. “A lot of times those are underreported or not deemed noteworthy, but I know that what we do is helping to mend that.”

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One connection in particular that has stayed with him, he said, is with a local at-risk youth from Seattle. After stopping the teen, who was under the influence and in the midst of a theft, Hanaumi made it a point to speak with him whenever he could, eventually helping him to get proper counseling. The teen turned his life around, and has since been awarded for his community leadership and service.

“The change that he has made in his life is a complete 180,” said Hanaumi. “Seeing the difference in him — it’s just incredible.”

And to whom does he owe his thanks? Not himself, but rather, his chief and his patrol officer comrades.

“The only reason that I can do what I do is because they are there to support us, and take on more so that we can devote time to our outreach," said Hanaumi. "Without their support, this wouldn’t be possible."