Special Reports

City makes progress, but much unchanged

Things were supposed to change.

Tacoma city leaders said so last April, after Police Chief David Brame killed his wife and himself. Investigations and gatherings of the committed were meant to help the city and its police department gain wisdom and mend the cracks in local government culture that allowed Brame to thrive.

"If there are any lessons to be learned or any policies to be changed, we'll want to do that," City Attorney Robin Jenkinson said nine months ago. "That's the goal here."

Almost a year later, the city shows signs of progress, but many promised reforms remain undelivered. Change mingles with routine. The crowds that packed City Hall last May demanding accountability have thinned.

City Manager Ray Corpuz is gone, fired by the City Council. But his replacement, Jim Walton, and Brame's replacement, Don Ramsdell, remain in charge - for how long, no one knows.

Efforts to hire a new city manager and police chief have slowed or stalled for a variety of reasons.

A slew of domestic violence policies have been proposed, designed to address the thorny issue of police officers and their spouses caught in the cycle of abuse. Some have been implemented, including a computer kiosk that allows abuse victims to apply for protection orders.

Other ideas, such as a citywide domestic violence policy and related training for employees, are still developing, either locally or in bills under consideration by the Legislature.

A passion-driven effort to change the form of city government collapsed last summer because of mislabeled petitions. Supporters vow to resurrect the idea, but its future is uncertain.

Some reform proposals languish in the sprawling shadow of the Brame scandal. In addition to the homicide investigation that followed the shootings, five separate investigations by four agencies were announced. One is finished.

The first questions raised after the shootings revolved around Brame's hiring in 1981 despite a failed psychological evaluation, and his subsequent promotion despite a 1988 rape allegation.

An administrative investigation by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs was supposed to answer those questions. But the inquiry was tabled in early May, when the Washington State Patrol began a criminal investigation into the Brame case.

That investigation, which found no criminal violations, spawned an administrative investigation, also conducted by the State Patrol, which targets 32 city and police department employees suspected of misconduct. The new inquiry has begun, but a court challenge by one of the city's police unions is delaying its progress.

An investigation by the state auditor into possible payroll violations and other aspects of the city's finances is not complete. An FBI investigation into alleged corruption is not over, and tight-lipped federal investigators offer few clues about when it will be.

Those complexities and other factors reveal a truism: Change takes time.

"There's been definite progress, and some of it is pretty impressive," said Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who has pushed for several proposed reforms related to the Brame case.

"I think it's coming together. Maybe some of it's not above the water line. We're only nine months into it. I think we'll probably spend several years to get everything done."

The News Tribune has compiled a checklist of reforms proposed by local leaders in the aftermath of the Brame scandal. The list of those ideas and their status is on page A8.

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486


Second in a series

Sunday: Five reforms to improve the Tacoma Police Department.

Today: A status check of suggestions for improving Tacoma city government, its domestic violence policies and the police department.