Special Reports

Ramsdell for interim chief

Don Ramsdell, an 18-year veteran of the Tacoma Police Department who has been acting chief since May 1, will be appointed interim chief by City Manager Jim Walton today.

"We're going to move forward," an ebullient Ramsdell said Thursday evening. "We want to continue building credibility and respect for the department by working closely with the community."

Ramsdell spoke quickly during a telephone conversation with The News Tribune, ideas flowing from him like a man who has a long "to-do" list he can hardly wait to tackle.

Among his plans for the 400-member department:

•Work with community leaders and citizens groups to ensure solid, two-way communication.

•Get the department back to full capacity by hiring officers to fill about two dozen openings.

•Work aggressively to change the way domestic violence cases are handled within the force, and study programs in other areas of the United States "so we can come up with our own program to respond in the best way possible."

•Review the recent police department audit "to see what we've accomplished and what we still need to accomplish."

•Make "all of our officers community liaison officers to a certain degree" by giving them the resources to efficiently work with residents and deal with their issues.

Ramsdell, 43, has been the only candidate for the interim job since Longview Police Chief Robert Burgreen dropped out of the running after a day of interviews earlier this month.

Walton said at the time he would scrutinize Ramsdell's background and speak with him in depth before deciding whether to name him to the interim post or continue the search.

Thursday evening, Walton scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. today at People's Park to announce his choice, but did not reveal it. He could not be reached for comment.

The city has made it clear that whoever was chosen as interim chief would not be a candidate for the permanent job.

It also was clear Thursday night that many in town were pleased with Walton's choice of Ramsdell to head the department for the short term.

"I think Don Ramsdell is an excellent, upstanding individual who has worked very hard to rebuild the image and morale of the police department," City Councilman Doug Miller said.

Mayor Bill Baarsma echoed those sentiments.

"The one word I would use to characterize him is 'genuine,'" Baarsma said. "He is the genuine article. ... I think he's done a very fine job to bring about a sense of stability and calm to the department."

Sgt. Dan Still, an 18-year veteran of the department, also was pleased. Still described the new interim chief as "extremely professional, extremely personable."

When Still replaced Ramsdell in a previous position, he found that "everything was laid out right. Everything was precise. He's very organized."

Retired Sgt. Richard Emm, a department veteran who spent 13 years as a sergeant, said Ramsdell "has the support of a lot of officers."

"Don is pretty level-headed and has been a straight shooter ever since I've known him. He has no hidden agenda," Emm said.

But Ramsdell faces a tall order to restore public trust and rebuild morale within a department that feels betrayed by former Chief David Brame, Emm said.

Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, before killing himself April 26.

"I don't envy him," Emm said. "It's going to be real hard to get the department back to where it was."

Ramsdell was named acting chief May 1, just five days after the Brame shootings. Assistant chief Catherine Woodard had been named acting chief hours after the shootings, but was relieved of her duties a few days later pending an investigation into whether she engaged in criminal behavior while helping Brame with his divorce.

Residents shocked by Crystal Brame's killing and worried about corruption in the force made it clear they wanted City Manager Ray Corpuz to find someone from outside the department to run it.

Corpuz vowed to do so, but was terminated by the City Council before he could act. Walton then said he'd look for an outside candidate.

But the task became more difficult as potential candidates inquired about the job, asked questions and withdrew. Walton came down to two candidates, Ramsdell and Burgreen.

Ramsdell credits the force "with continuing to do a very professional job" in the midst of the tragedy.

That gives him a head start on his goal of delivering a police force "that's feeling good about themselves and about the community" to a community "that's feeling good about us" when a permanent chief arrives, Ramsdell said.

The veteran Sgt. Still believes he can do just that.

"Everybody loves Don," Still said. "He's the right person for what we're going through now. He walks his talk."

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659

kris.sherman@mail.tribnet.com Martha Modeen: 253-596-8646 martha.modeen@mail.tribnet.com

Don Ramsdell

Age: 43

Personal: Married, three children

Education: Earned a bachelor's degree in urban affairs from the University of Puget Sound

Current position: Acting Tacoma police chief

Law enforcement career: Hired by Tacoma police in May 1985; named an assistant chief last year, then appointed acting chief May 1