Special Reports

Domestic violence policy nears for police

The Tacoma Police Department this week plans to create a policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence, using help from national experts flown in for that purpose.

Four experts from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Arlington, Va., are in Tacoma to help write the policy. Tacoma police are paying their expenses.

A draft should be completed by Friday, said Debra Hannula, chairwoman of the Crystal Clear Initiative Committee. Other experts will review it before the police department adopts it, she said.

"We're working hard on this, and have been," she said. "(We) hope to have an excellent product that can be used as the best (policy) in the nation ... and certainly in Washington State."

Mayor Bill Baarsma convened the Crystal Clear committee shortly after Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26.

The visit and the planned policy are the first substantive steps taken by the committee and the police department, which so far have been consumed with research into the subject of police domestic violence.

The new policy will be a set of specific instructions for handling officer-involved cases, Hannula said. It will establish protocols for responding to 911 calls and conducting investigations, and will outline penalties for officers who do not respond appropriately.

It likely will be based on a similar policy used by the Clark County, Wash., Sheriff's Office. Few police departments in the country have specific policies for handling officer-involved domestic violence, but Clark County does, Hannula said.

The policy will affect mostly police officers. Still to come, Hannula said, are plans to help victims and potential victims.

Interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell said police commanders intend to work with the national experts to develop a model policy for the department.

"Something that is tailor-made for us," Ramsdell said. "That's something that's on the top of our list."

He appointed a captain and a lieutenant to research how other law enforcement agencies handle domestic violence committed by officers. In addition, he has talked with Jan Russell, a victim advocate with the nationally recognized program in Chicago.

Ombudsmen from the Seattle, Portland and Boise police departments will visit Tacoma on Aug. 20 to explain their jobs to the committee. Tacoma's police department doesn't have an ombudsman, but might benefit from one, Hannula said. An ombudsman might handle complaints about any type of police abuse of power, she said.

The Crystal Clear committee has about 60 members, who meet irregularly as a whole and more often in several subcommittees.

It isn't an official body, but has representatives from the City Council and other departments, as well as the police department.

Though the committee's overall goal is to make improvements in the wake of the Brame shootings, the scope of those improvements is wide.

Some committee members - including Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen, State Rep. Pat Lantz, State Sen. Debbie Regala and Elaine Rose of the state Attorney General's office - are interested in statewide issues. Others are working on Tacoma community action, and still others are focused solely on Tacoma.

Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658