Veteran wrote anti-abuse policy

April 26, 2004 

These days, Tom Strickland is the Tacoma police captain known for spending hundreds of hours researching and writing the department's new policy on officer-involved domestic violence.

He gets calls daily from law enforcement agencies throughout the country wanting to see his work and get his opinion of theirs.

But a year ago, Strickland was a passed-over lieutenant in charge of the criminal investigation division who had gotten on the boss' bad side.

"He didn't like me," he said of then-Police Chief David Brame.

Why?

"Because I didn't like him," Strickland said. "He was a very vindictive person."

On the surface, Strickland might not have seemed the natural choice to write a domestic violence policy in a politically sensitive time. He had no past training in domestic violence.

"I didn't really realize that there was such a thing out there as officer-involved domestic violence," he said recently.

But many in the department believed in him.

"He's done a great job in whatever he's done," said interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell, who promoted Strickland to captain in February. "He gives it his all."

Strickland, 50, grew up in Gig Harbor and attended Bellarmine Preparatory School and Seattle University before he enlisted in the Army to avoid being drafted in 1972. He spent three years as a military policeman, then worked for two small police departments before joining Tacoma's force. Feb. 19 was his 25th anniversary.

After Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then himself, assistant chief Rich McCrea asked Strickland to look into writing a new policy on officer-involved domestic violence. The department's former policy was just a few paragraphs long.

The new policy, enacted Feb. 23, gives step-by-step instructions on how to handle reported incidents of officers who abuse, with top consideration given to victims' safety. The policy has a section on preventing domestic violence, including a provision that potential hires be evaluated for warning signs of abuse.

As part of his research, Strickland joined the Crystal Clear Initiative Committee (later known as the Task Force on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence). He was glad for the help from the members, who included domestic violence experts, former victims, lawyers, politicians and a state Supreme Court justice.

But he feared the group would think he was closed-minded, or a Brame supporter. As an officer, he's supposed to carry his gun at all times, but he left it behind during Crystal Clear meetings. He wore Hawaiian shirts in hopes of appearing open and friendly.

Committee members seem uniform in their praise of Strickland.

"He was great," said April Gerlock, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and member of the group. "I didn't have the sense anyone was intimidated."

"He was authentically committed to writing an effective policy where the primary concern is the safety of victims," said Connie Brown, executive director of the YWCA. "He's not dismissive of people's concerns. He's very authentic and interested. I think he's the real deal."

In his office, amid Harley-Davidson memorabilia and photos of motorcycles and his wife, Strickland paused, recalling last April 26. He lives in Gig Harbor and had been at Harbor Plaza an hour before the shootings. It was a painful day for someone who loves being a police officer.

"I called the desk, and they said it was our chief," he said. "I never thought it would be Chief Brame."

Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.
Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658
lisa.kremer@mail.tribnet.com

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