Special Reports

Proposals to deal with domestic violence aired

A committee created by the Tacoma City Council made preliminary recommendations Tuesday about how the city should deal with domestic violence in the future.

The recommendations were part of a lunchtime presentation to the City Council, which won't officially consider them until the committee makes a formal presentation at a council meeting - which might not happen for weeks or months.

The recommendations included:

•Create a safe reporting system which victims of domestic violence can use to report problems they have with city employees without endangering themselves.

•Conduct a public campaign to educate the public about domestic violence.

•Consider making domestic violence education a mandatory element of city employment, whether it's part of the hiring and promotion process, or a new requirement for all current employees.

•Consider making policy changes to ban the hiring or promotion of anyone with a history of domestic violence.

•Create some sort of disciplinary action for city employees involved in domestic violence.

•Make it clear to city employees that supervisors must report allegations of domestic violence involving their employees.

The committee was formed in the aftermath of the April 26 shooting of Crystal Brame, who was fatally shot by her husband, Police Chief David Brame, before he killed himself.

But the committee's recommendations would not have helped Crystal Brame, said Lara Herrman, a local attorney who's been active in domestic violence issues since the shooting. The words "Brame" and "Crystal" never were uttered during the hourlong session.

Councilman Kevin Phelps said the city needed to go further.

"Our policy needs to address an accusation of domestic violence, versus charges of domestic violence," Phelps said. "We're sitting here today because of a charge that had never been adjudicated. ... If we don't get our hands around that, we're missing an opportunity."

Crystal Brame never told police officials that her husband was abusing her, although she made lengthy allegations in declarations she filed for her divorce earlier this year.

Tuesday's presentation was made by John Briehl, director of Tacoma's Human Rights and Human Services Department. Briehl leads the committee, which was created by a council resolution shortly after the shootings. Members include representatives of local and state domestic violence groups, and city Prosecutor Anne Crowley, who handles domestic violence cases.

The City Council had directed the committee to create a plan to provide training and technical assistance regarding domestic violence to city employees. Committee members have gone far beyond the scope of that directive by drafting recommendations for policy changes, Briehl said.

"The committee took a little liberty," he said. "We felt there was an immediate and emergent need for things to do with domestic violence. ... We didn't want to wait for council approval."

The committee already is offering "introductory domestic violence training" to city employees. Two three-hour seminars held Friday and Monday each drew about 75 city employees, who came voluntarily, Briehl said.

The committee also is talking to a counselor about providing "life skills training" for Tacoma police officers and their domestic partners, although committee members haven't talked to representatives of the police department about it yet.

Briehl said he also plans to hire a second victims' advocate to work part time in his department, assisting China Fortson, who helps victims of domestic violence.

Fortson's caseload has increased 30 percent since the shootings.

Although the committee's results are preliminary, interim city manager Jim Walton said its recommendations will be taken seriously.

"We will make this happen," he said. "We will do everything we can, even if we have to seek additional power from the council to do it."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658