Special Reports

Counselors propose task force

TOPPENISH, Yakima County - In a quiet room in a distant hamlet, domestic violence treatment counselors this weekend worked on a far-reaching plan for treating police officers who are violent at home.

In a wide-ranging brainstorming session, the counselors said they think the governor or the attorney general should create a statewide task force that would take responsibility for investigation of police domestic violence cases. The task force would take the cases away from police departments and Internal Affairs divisions in agencies throughout the state.

"It's pretty hard for police officers to investigate police officers," said Steve Pepping, president of the Northwest Association of Domestic Violence Treatment Professionals, which held its annual meeting Friday and Saturday in Toppenish.

Spouses and partners of police officers could call the proposed task force to ask for help without necessarily jeopardizing the officers' jobs, Pepping said. Investigators who work for the task force would be able to look into allegations against officers, and the task force would be able to recommend officers get treatment or be charged with a crime.

It's a plan with no funding, no sponsor to make it happen and no legal structure to make it work. But it's a starting point, Pepping said.

"There needs to be some research to fill in the gaps," he said. Pepping said he plans to contact state lawmakers and representatives of the state attorney general to talk about the plan. He hopes to have a formal proposal when association leaders meet again in October.

Pepping also is chairman of the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence and owns a Tacoma treatment center called Peaceful Solutions.

Domestic violence treatment professionals are counselors who work with perpetrators of domestic violence, whether they've been convicted of a crime or seek treatment voluntarily.

Pepping said he decided to raise the issue of police-involved domestic violence at the association's annual conference because no treatment counselors were invited to participate in the City of Tacoma's work groups on domestic violence. Treatment counselors are as concerned as anyone by domestic violence homicides, he said, and they're the only ones certified to treat perpetrators.

Domestic violence treatment is defined by Washington's administrative code as an intensive, long-term treatment program designed to challenge abusers' belief systems and change their behavior. It's different from anger management, which is defined by the state code as a short-term treatment course designed to help the subject deal with strong emotions.

Treatment professionals gathered at the conference said they'd counseled many police officers and other law enforcement agents over the years. Besides their often-complicated life situations, there are day-to-day difficulties in treating officers, they said.

For example, counselors need to ensure that if they send officers to group therapy, there isn't someone they've arrested in the group with them.

However, these aren't insurmountable problems, the counselors said. Thirty years ago it may have seemed impossible for a police officer to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but now it wouldn't be remarkable, they said.

Many treatment professionals - including at least one at the conference - are former police officers, Pepping said. About 40 treatment professionals attended the conference, a smaller number than usual, likely due to the distant location. The treatment association's new proposal means there are at least eight groups creating plans for addressing domestic violence and proposing reforms in Tacoma and the state.

The other groups are:

•The Crystal Clear Committee, an informal group, convened by Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma and coordinated by Tacoma attorney Debra Hannula, addressing state and federal laws.

•The (other) Crystal Clear Committee, an advisory group to the Tacoma City Council, addressing Tacoma Police Department policies.

•City Council-requested research. City departments are assessing training and education for city employees.

•Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The association started an investigation into city policies that affected David Brame, but the investigation has been put on hold.

•Pierce County. The county's role in legal and judicial aspects of domestic violence.

•Pierce County community. Representatives of shelters, medical agencies and community groups are considering a new plan for responding to emergency domestic violence situations.

•Women's justice committee. Local women lawyers and judges are researching how to better help victims of domestic violence and educate the public about what's needed.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658