Wayne County Sheriff Ray Washington Aims to Push Office Forward

Public service has been something Raphael “Ray” Washington, Sheriff of Wayne County, has cherished for years. Ever since he was a kid, he wanted to become a police officer.

Washington oversees three jail facilities, Road Patrol, a Marine Unit, a Mounted Unit, and other law enforcement activities in collaboration with the 43 cities and townships in his jurisdiction, which covers 673 square miles.

“It’s a lot of work,” Sheriff Washington says. “We’re constantly receiving calls from various law enforcement agencies that are all short on personnel, as we all are, and we’re always assisting those who call on us for help.”

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are suffering from declining staff levels. Some of it reflects the post-George Floyd era that has given rise to anti-police sentiment and high scrutiny of officer conduct.

“Law enforcement is a noble profession,” Sheriff Washington says. “If you want to see change in law enforcement, you have to come in and work that change from the inside and be a part of what you want to see and not just look at it from a distance and say what it is.”

It’s the reason he launched the “Be the Difference” campaign, aimed at recruiting more law enforcement officers to the Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve recently graduated a class of 30 recruits who are now working in our jails, a very controlled system for six months, before going into other fields within the office.”

The Sheriff’s Office is looking for men and women over 18 years old with at least a GED to join its staff. Increased enrollment in the ranks of the office will help with the overall efficiency of the operations, including the addition of the newly built Wayne County Justice Complex. The project will house new county jails, courts, and prosecutor’s office – an effort that has been underway near I-75 and Mack Avenue, and a project that has seen multiple development delays as it nears the finish line.

“The efficiency part is going to be huge,” Sheriff Washington says. “We currently operate very old jails. One of our jails is just about three years short of being 100 years old. In this new state-of-the-art facility space to house 2,200 inmates, we’re going to have new camera systems, and all the different (county) agencies, we’ll all be in one complex that will even serve the community better.”

Washington began his law enforcement journey as a recruiter for the Wayne County Sheriff’s department at 23 years old.

He signed up to become a member of the Detroit Police department in 1978, however, layoffs at time kept him away from the agency’s force. He was hired in 1983 and joined the jail division of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.

Before long, Washington was called back by DPD in 1985 and after 14 years would realize the necessity to be elevated within the department.

He was promoted to sergeant in 1999 and then lieutenant in 2001 after studying and testing for the positions, and later served in an executive role leading whole units of a department.

Washington came into the position after an emotional blow to the agency following the death of Sheriff Napoleon, after serving as Deputy Sheriff.

Now serving in his first full-term role as Sheriff, one his top priorities in addition to hiring is a focus on school safety and assisting municipalities across the county on collaborative policing efforts to ensure safety because of heighted mass shootings across the country.

“We go in and assist in school safety efforts with other area police departments in our jurisdiction to ensure that we’re all on the same page in the unlikely event of a school shooting in our area.”

Building up morale is an important part of the job for Sheriff Washington, especially for a job that can be tough on those called to protect and serve our community. But it’s not just morale within the force that he’s after. He always aims to build up the morale of connecting with the community.

Washington took the time to tout his office’s program, “Sheriff Community Outreach Urban Team, (SCOUT)” which he says “goes into neighborhoods and handle quality of life issues (such as drag racing, drifting, loiters, narcotics, etc.).”

“We go out in the community and partner with law enforcement agencies, primarily in Detroit. We go out and handle quality of life issues because if not addressed they can diminish the quality of life in the community. We go out twice a month with our command post and we deal with those issue that maybe larger agencies can’t get to because they have violent crime issue and staff shortages.”

Following the national unrest of the police involved death of George Floyd and the growing lack of trust toward police by the Black community, as a Black man working in the law enforcement profession it can be difficult to shoulder the load that comes with his position. However, Sheriff Washington believes he’s answering the call to duty.

“I love people and I love to serve people,” Sheriff Washington says. “I see myself as a servant leader. I’m out here serving the community. Will there come a time when I say I’ve had enough? Maybe. But after 40 years, I can’t tell you when that is because I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m going to be doing this for a while longer.”

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