Special Reports

TPD: New tack on domestic violence

It was a lesson learned the hard way, but it was also a lesson learned well.

The Tacoma Police Department took no chances in responding last week to an anonymous, third-hand allegation of domestic abuse involving a department commander.

A few months ago, the matter might have been referred to the department's internal affairs unit for a lengthy investigation, or might not have been investigated at all.

The David Brame tragedy changed all that. Both city and police department officials had ignored or missed warning signals about possible domestic violence in the Brame household before the young police chief killed his wife and himself in April.

In the aftermath of the shootings, The News Tribune sent a reporter to Chicago to describe "the Chicago way" - the Chicago police department's enlightened way of responding to domestic violence complaints against its officers.

The hallmarks of the nationally recognized Chicago model are putting the safety of the victim first and using civilian domestic violence investigators to determine whether disciplinary action is warranted. Tacoma police officials said they had the Chicago model in mind when they responded to the anonymous allegation.

In last week's incident, acting Tacoma Chief Don Ramsdell turned to the county sheriff's department first, rather than his own internal affairs unit as might have been customary before the Brame deaths.

A sheriff's deputy was dispatched to investigate the tip and offer the officer's wife domestic violence services. Tacoma police also asked the sheriff's office to conduct an internal-affairs review of the matter.

The officer himself was informed of the investigation and told he would be supervised closely, although superiors decided putting him on administrative leave was not necessary.

Preliminary indications are that the allegation was overblown, but the investigations will nonetheless be completed and county prosecutors will decide whether legal action is appropriate.

Tacoma police officials are still evaluating the department's domestic violence policy, and formal changes have yet to be adopted. But last week's incident illustrates that domestic violence allegations against officers are now taken very seriously indeed.

And that is as it should be.