Special Reports

Tacoma PD shares new policy on cop abuse

Tacoma police officials, saying they want to win back the public trust lost when their chief became a killer, went public Thursday with their new policy on officer-involved domestic violence.

"The bottom line is, we had our police chief commit murder," interim Chief Don Ramsdell told reporters Thursday, a few hours before he presented the policy to the City Council. "We need to try to rebuild the trust and confidence in the community."

Ramsdell said he and other officers will go to community meetings throughout the city to tell residents about the policy. Officers will learn about it in classes that will start in March, he said. And a new academy for police employees' life partners will begin in March or April, he said.

The new policy is designed to address failures in the department that were exposed when Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26.

For example, after the shooting, it became clear that other department employees knew the Brames had accused each other of domestic violence, but these employees did nothing. Under the new policy, employees who have reason to believe a co-worker is involved in domestic violence are compelled to report it. If they don't, they could be fired.

Tacoma police Capt. Tom Strickland and others who helped develop the policy worked with more than 70 community members, including domestic violence victims. They researched policies and consulted with experts across the country.

Now, they said, other departments are calling them for advice.

People who work with domestic violence victims said they are impressed with the policy.

One former victim, who in the past has been critical of the police department, said she is thrilled with the new policy.

"It felt like a love letter to victims," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she still fears her abuser. "Such good things are happening. Our police department is probably among the smartest now."

The policy was universally praised by council members, police officials, victim advocates, a state Supreme Court justice and others. About 35 people attended the presentation. No members of the public chose to speak when council members invited public comment.

Justice Barbara Madsen said that in July, when a community group began meeting to create the policy, she was concerned that police representatives would be uncooperative or defensive.

But that was never the case, she said.

"I have been totally impressed with the amount of cooperation and responsiveness and willingness on the part of the Tacoma Police Department," she said.

Pat Frantz, leader of the union that represents Tacoma's rank-and-file officers, detectives and sergeants, has said he supports the policy.

Judie Fortier, coordinator of Tacoma Women's Rights Office, was more hesitant. She said she supports the policy itself, and is impressed with its provisions to keep victims safe.

But the bottom line, Fortier said, is whether the policy is enforced.

"It's not about a piece of paper that fits in a policy manual," she said. "Policies are only as good as their implementation."

Fortier said she's not ready to to fly a flag in celebration.

"I will not be able to fly flags, ever," Fortier said. "I will never get over the death of Crystal Brame. Ever."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658



Questions and answers about the Tacoma Police Department's new policy on officer-involved domestic violence

Q: When will it go into effect?

A: Interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell said he plans to have it take effect Feb. 23. It doesn't need City Council approval.

Q: What does the policy say about protecting victims?

A: The department's former, three-paragraph policy on domestic violence never mentioned the word "victim." The new, 21-page policy mentions victims and victim safety repeatedly. Police officials have said victim safety is their first priority.

Q: What does the policy say about discipline?

A: Discipline for breaking the policy is up to the chief, and can include termination.

Q: How can we tell if the policy works?

A: Some victim advocates have said that if the policy works, calls about police-involved domestic violence should increase, as victims become more confident about asking for help.

Q: How do we know Tacoma needs a policy?

A: Police officials said they recognized flaws in their own policies after Crystal Brame's death. Also, domestic violence experts cite the Chicago Police Department as one of the country's best in dealing with police-involved domestic violence. There, every year there is one report of abuse for about every 54 officers on the 13,500-person force. In Tacoma, there is about one complaint for every 532 officers. That's less than one complaint a year on the 380-person force. That might mean that as many as 90 percent of the people abused by officers in Tacoma are afraid to report the crime.

Q: Do new police policies usually get this much attention?

A: Not at all. They are usually internal proceedings, rarely if ever reported in the media or discussed in council meetings. This policy, however, was prompted by a public tragedy - the death of Crystal Brame - and police officials want the public to know their response.

Lisa Kremer, The News Tribune

On the Net

• Read the Tacoma Police Department's new policy on officer-involved domestic violence at www.tribnet.com/news/projects/david_brame