Officer Rosell Ellis

“When you can change a kid’s life, and you can see the change in them, it really means a lot."

Officer Rosell Ellis

Officer Officer Rosell Ellis

About Rosell Ellis

It's a career so many kids dream about, and Rosell Ellis was lucky enough to live that dream.

He played professional basketball for teams across the globe. He wowed crowds playing for smaller leagues in Iowa and Yakima. He even had stints playing in the NBA. 

Many people living in South Seattle in the 1990s knew Ellis, his three sisters, his brother and his parents, Rosell Sr. and Ethel, as their friends and neighbors.  People packed Rainier Beach High School's gym to watch the star forward dominate the game. "When I was growing up, we had a project in church. They asked us, 'what would you want to be when you grow up?' I wrote down on my paper I want to be a professional basketball player and I want to be a Seattle police officer." Growing up, Ellis had plenty of interactions with Seattle police, most of them positive, some of them not, but all of them shaping his career decisions early on. Ellis tailored his life to focus on his two career goals. After graduating from high school in 1993, he went on to the College of Eastern Utah then McNeese State, in Louisiana. He graduated with a degree in criminal justice. 

Ellis played basketball in Des Moines, Iowa. He played in two pre-season games for the Detroit Pistons, before being let go. He then played for a team in Yakima.  

"I tried out for the Chicago Bulls for summer league, L.A. [Los Angeles Lakers] for summer league, I was always focused on 'I gotta get a job'."  

Ellis was a top scorer in the International Basketball Association. Sports writers said he was bound for the NBA, but Ellis admits his temper got the best of him. He once got aggressive with a referee after a call he disagreed with. 

When there was no talk about a future in the NBA, Ellis said he redirected his focus to playing basketball internationally. 

Ellis said he had a good run playing in Argentina, Australia, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia for more than a decade. 

"There were teams who wanted to sign me, but when I was playing in Australia my last year the game had changed a lot. When that happened, I knew that was my time to hang it up," Ellis said. "It was part of my life and I got to do for a long time. When it stopped being fun, I said, 'let's turn the page and do something new again'."

Becoming an Officer

Ellis signed up to join the Seattle Police Department and was sworn in at the age of 42.

 "I wanted to be the police officer who people in my community could have a good relationship with," Officer Ellis said. "I tell people, 'I've been where you've been, I'm from the community you come from'." 

Officer Ellis said his experiences on the court, especially the most controversial ones, have made him a better police officer. 

"When I was younger, I don't think I would be ready for this job. One of the things I preach to others now is you can't let someone get on your nerves, you should be in control of your nerves," he said.   

Officer Ellis spent about a year and a half in patrol before being recruited to work with student and staff at Garfield High School. Officer Ellis said he's grateful for a chance to give back to Seattle Public Schools. He said if it wasn't for his teachers and coaches he wouldn't be where he is today. "When you can change a kid's life, and you can see the change in them, it really means a lot," he said. Ellis said he hopes to spend a few more years at Garfield before taking a promotional exam.  

"If I could retire from SPD as a captain that would be great, because somewhere down the line I wouldn't mind being able to pass on life lessons I have learned to the next up and coming officers. Not telling them how to do the job, but giving them life lessons and conversations," he said. 

Officer Ellis is still a fixture in Rainier Beach. His parents, who retired from Boeing after a combined 82 years on the job, still have a house in the community. Officer Ellis said he also loves going to Rainier Beach High School basketball games, especially with his two young sons. He gets nostalgic when he sees his retired jersey hanging in the rafters. 

"I am thankful every day I get to get up and put on the [Seattle Police Department] uniform. In my life I've been blessed."