Special Reports

Officials urged to learn from tragedies

Francie Biesanz's Minnesota community didn't react when her violent relationship with a police officer ended with his suicide several years ago.

She urged the state's law enforcement agencies, elected officials and domestic violence advocates to not let that happen in Washington in the wake of Tacoma's high-profile homicide-suicide.

"Take a moment to let some of these ideas in," she told a crowd of more than 400 gathered in Burien on Monday for a symposium on officer-involved domestic violence. "It's happening right now to a number of women who are married to or with police officers."

Biesanz encouraged the audience to learn from her experience as they focused on officer-involved domestic violence issues locally and in the state.

"It is terrifying to call the police on a police officer. That takes tremendous courage," she said. "Believe her when she calls."

The daylong symposium was organized in response to the death of Crystal Brame. Her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, fatally shot her, then committed suicide as they struggled through a contentious divorce and traded accusations of domestic abuse.

The April 26 shootings were a common thread throughout the day's panel discussions and were often referred to as a tragedy that shouldn't be repeated.

David Brame's parents and sister attended the forum at the state Criminal Justice Training Center. His father, retired Tacoma police officer Gene Brame, addressed the audience during a morning session and reminded them that men can also be abused.

"This thing happened in David's case," the elder Brame said to a silent, attentive group. "He was driven over the edge and his mind snapped at the last moment out there."

At the end of the day, state Attorney General Christine Gregoire challenged the crowd to keep up the momentum on officer-involved domestic violence, to develop policies and to educate the community.

Victim advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies need to collaborate on those policies and make sure they take root in the community.

"This cannot be a meaningless process," Gregoire said.

"It was absolutely preventable," she said of the Brame shootings. "So, the question is, how do we make sure it doesn't happen again in another community?"

Panelists talked about local and statewide efforts on officer-involved domestic violence.

Two Pierce County lawmakers are drafting a bill for the 2004 legislative session that would require all law enforcement agencies to have a policy on how to handle officer-involved domestic violence in place by June 1, 2005.

The legislation outlines the minimum elements each agency must address - from pre-hiring screening to mandatory reporting by any employee who is aware of domestic violence perpetrated by a sworn officer. It also asks the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to write a model policy.

The standards are meant to improve coordination among law enforcement agencies and increase accountability, said state Rep. Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor).

"It's a work in progress right now," she said.

"It's an important issue that has to be addressed," said Sen. Debbie Regala (D-Tacoma).

Lobbyists and law enforcement officials expressed concerns about parts of the proposal and stressed the need to make a victim's safety the top priority.

"If we are serious about making sure victims are safe in our community, we will go much further than the minimum," said Grace Huang, public policy coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Officer-involved domestic violence will be a key topic at the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs conference next month.

"It is also going to take a commitment from all of us to do our part," Sumner Police Chief Colleen Wilson said. "We should step forward and make bold progress."

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268