Special Reports

Leaders meet on domestic violence

About 40 of Tacoma's leaders crammed into a too-small conference room Thursday morning in a powerful show of support for plans to create a new policy for dealing with law enforcement officers involved in domestic violence.

Interim Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell, City Manager Jim Walton, Mayor Bill Baarsma, City Council members, state legislators, a state Supreme Court justice and domestic violence advocates rubbed elbows in a conference room provided by the downtown law firm Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson and Daheim.

Consultants from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who ran Thursday's meeting, said they were impressed.

"This is definitely the most diverse group I've worked with, in terms of entities that you represent, and because of that, I think the potential is astronomical," said Dave Thomas, a former police officer who now teaches police departments about domestic violence.

"You are all open to hearing one another and being part of a collaborative process," said Nancy Turner, a victim advocate and professor who has worked on the issue of officer-involved domestic violence for the chiefs association since 1998.

The discussion was calm, with questions on a variety of topics:

•Won't tough policies discourage officers' spouses from telling the department about troubles at home? "They already don't call," Turner said. If the department has a strict no-tolerance policy that the community is aware of, victims will be better off, she insisted.

•Will this system encourage disgruntled ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends to harass officers by filing complaints? Not likely, Turner said, noting that such people could just as easily harass by alleging an officer has a problem with drugs, and that's not considered a huge problem now.

•Police officers know where the battered-women's shelters are, so where can investigating officers take a victim for safety? Turner said the police department needs to develop relationships with shelters in other counties and other states, so officers can take victims there.

Members of the group plan to create an outline of a new policy by this evening and flesh it out with more details over the next several months.

Turner said the plan will include:

•Strict screening of officer candidates before they're hired, including background checks, psychological exams and possibly lie detector tests.

•Orientation for new officers and their families, which would include a review of the department's policies on domestic violence.

•Assistance for officers who show signs of inappropriate - but not illegal - behavior at home. The assistance can't be punitive, or it won't help, Thomas said.

•Thorough investigation and documentation of any alleged act of domestic violence, both criminally and administratively.

•Supervisors to closely monitor employees, watching for patterns of abusive behavior.

•Officers would be required to report knowledge of domestic violence to a supervisor. Failure to report could be a firing offense. Interfering in an investigation or intimidating a victim also could be a firing offense.

•All calls regarding abusive officers, even anonymous ones, would be taken seriously.

•If the chief is involved, investigators will notify his or her superior, as well as another representative of local government, such as the county prosecutor.

Turner's work has been paid for by a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women in the federal Department of Justice. As part of the grant, she, Thomas, social worker Janett Forte and counselor Aviva Kurash have helped 15 police departments develop new policies for officer-involved domestic violence.

Turner's team thought they were done working with police departments until Tacoma Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself on April 26.

When representatives of the Tacoma Police Department called the chiefs association, Turner was already prepared to offer assistance.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658