Special Reports

Domestic violence: What has city done?

When Crystal Brame's family and lawyer sued the City of Tacoma last week, they said they didn't think city officials had done enough to protect future victims of domestic violence.

City officials countered that they have been working on new domestic violence policies and plans since Crystal Brame was fatally shot April 26. She had filed for divorce from her husband and killer, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame. In her court file, she had alleged years of abuse at his hands.

"We're moving forward," said Councilman Rick Talbert, who with colleague Connie Ladenburg has taken the lead in investigating how domestic violence works and how to fight it.

But creating policies that will make a difference takes time, Talbert said.

Seattle attorney Paul Luvera calls that "political hot air."

Luvera represents Crystal Brame's family - her parents, Lane and Patty Judson; her sister, Julie Ahrens; and her children, Haley, 8, and David, 5.

The family's suit, filed in Pierce County Superior Court, contends the city is responsible for Crystal Brame's death because city officials gave Brame power and a gun when they should have known he was dangerous.

Luvera believes the city could have reacted immediately after the shootings to make life safer for family members of abusive police officers. Officials could have created temporary plans, he said, while they worked on permanent ones.

Crystal Brame's family has asked the city to create an independent investigative authority to serve only victims of abusive police officers. Victims could call the authority to report abuse without fearing their call would be handled by their abusers' friends. The authority then would investigate the reports.

The family also asked the city to create an "independent commission" to evaluate the city's programs for helping employees with emotional or psychological issues.

Talbert and Councilwoman Ladenburg said they are interested in an independent authority, such as a city ombudsman.

Here's what the city has done regarding domestic violence since David Brame shot his wife and himself:

•Ladenburg, Talbert and several members of the police department participate in the Crystal Clear Initiative Committee, which is researching domestic violence policies. So far the group has researched a proposed Tacoma police policy on abusive officers and a proposed state law requiring all police departments to have such a policy.

•The Tacoma Police Department, working with the Crystal Clear committee, is working on a policy regarding officer-involved domestic violence.

•The City Council offered domestic violence awareness training to city employees shortly after the shootings. It was not required, but about 400 employees attended voluntarily.

•The City Council voted to create a policy that would require all employees be trained to recognize and respond to domestic violence.

•Two City Council members and several members of the Police Department recently traveled to New Orleans for a weeklong conference on domestic violence held by the National College of District Attorneys.

•City and county officials have said they want to work together to create a joint domestic violence legal center that would provide an array of victim services.

•The Crystal Clear committee met with representatives of the International Association of Chiefs of Police to talk about policies for officer-involved domestic violence.

•The Crystal Clear committee also met with Diane Wetendorf, a Chicago authority on victims of police-involved domestic violence.The committee also met with the ombudsmen for police departments in Boise, Portland and Seattle.

Luvera said he wasn't much impressed by the list.

"So far nothing's happened, no programs have been adopted," he said.

Luvera said he's hired a national expert on police-involved domestic violence - he declined to identify the person - who told him the city could have taken temporary measures to offer protection to potential victims of abusive officers.

There is a small circle of national experts in the subject of police-involved domestic violence. Many have been approached by Tacoma's attorneys and by Luvera for possible testimony in the Brame lawsuit. All know the Brame case.

One expert contacted by Luvera is Ann O'Dell, a retired San Diego police officer who has lectured at the annual National College of District Attorneys' conference on domestic violence for 10 years.

She said she doesn't think the city has done nearly enough.

"It sounds like they've reached out, but in my opinion, in five months, they could have a (new) policy in place," O'Dell said.

Tacoma could emulate a "model policy" the International Association of Chiefs of Police has for dealing with officers involved in domestic violence, she said.

"All they have to do is put their own bells and whistles on the IACP policy and they've got it made," O'Dell said.

Two other experts said they are familiar with Tacoma's situation and think the city is doing a good job.

"They are trying to decide what's the best course of action, rather than a knee-jerk reaction," said Dottie Davis, a Fort Wayne, Ind., police captain who lectures nationally on domestic violence.

"If they would just take a policy and adopt it, it would not mean anything. What's the point of having a policy if your officers don't understand it and they aren't held accountable for it?"

Davis, also a lecturer at the national domestic violence conference, met Tacoma police Lt. Tom Strickland there this year. Strickland is in charge of the police department's efforts to revamp officer-involved domestic violence policies.

"I was very impressed with Tom Strickland," Davis said. "He seemed to care about the issue and understand it."

Mark Wynn, a former Nashville police officer who is another domestic violence expert, has been to Tacoma twice since the shootings, and has talked to some city officials over the phone.

"It looks to me that they understand that not only is it important to Tacoma, they also know the entire nation's watching them," he said. "Whatever steps they make, it's going to be careful. I told them, this policy has to be yours. It has to fit your community. Don't carbon-copy someone else's."

Other experts, though, were puzzled why their offers of help weren't taken up by anyone in Tacoma.

Councilman Doug Miller once invited Chicago victim advocate Jan Russell to Tacoma, even setting a date for the visit. The trip never happened, and Russell said no one called her to cancel. Russell, another lecturer at the National College of District Attorneys' conference on domestic violence, said she talked once, briefly, to Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell.

Renae Griggs, director of the National Police Family Violence Prevention Project in Florida, has offered help to all City Council members. None has taken her up on the offer, she said.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658