Special Reports

City to enact tough domestic violence policy for employees

The City of Tacoma will not tolerate its employees using city time or resources to commit acts of domestic violence and intends to do everything it can to help its workers who are the victims of such abuse, according to a new policy scheduled to take effect May 15.

Human Rights and Human Services Director John Briehl called the five-page policy "a short but powerful document," when he presented a final draft to the City Council during a study session Tuesday.

The policy, crafted by a committee of city employees and community experts in dealing with domestic violence, will cover most of the city's 3,000 employees. A separate policy covers law enforcement officers.

"We've done whatever we can to make sure that victims are safe, feel safe," Briehl said.

Acting Human Resources Director Woodrow E. Jones Jr. agreed.

"I think this policy is geared and driven by the safety of the individual," he said. It's also a clear statement "that says we will not tolerate domestic violence," Jones added.

City officials are hopeful companies that do business in Tacoma will follow the city's lead and develop equally tough policies, Jones said.

Some fine tuning based on comments and suggestions from City Council members remains to be done. Briehl said he expects to make those changes this week and begin the training needed to implement the policy as soon as possible.

The policy is the second step in a comprehensive response to cries from the public - and requests from the City Council - that Tacoma take every action possible to identify and root out actions of domestic violence within its work force.

Calls for stronger domestic violence policies across the city arose shortly after Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and killed himself with his department-issued handgun last April 26.

The city's new policy on officer-involved domestic violence was enacted earlier this year. Because it involves sworn law enforcement officers it's far more stringent in many ways than the new employee policy.

But the employee policy is plenty tough, said Karen White Tautfest, director of advocacy services for the YWCA, who helped write the document.

"It's a coordinated community response, similar to the idea that it takes a whole village to raise a child," she said. "Changing the whole culture includes victim safety and perpetrator accountability."

Two of the policy's hallmarks are that it directs supervisors to contact the city's human resources department when they learn of on-the-job domestic violence and it provides for disciplinary action against employees who engage in domestic violence on city time or with city resources.

Judie Fortier, the city's women's rights coordinator, also praised the city's action.

Shortly after she went to work for Tacoma several years ago, Fortier learned a co-worker was going home three and four times a day to abuse his wife. When she told a supervisor, the boss said, "'Oh, Judie, I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do,'" Fortier recalled Tuesday.

"It was a horrible situation (for the victim) and it was a horrible situation for me," she added.

"This gives our supervisors some tools and resources that they've never had before - and it's about good government," Fortier said. "If we have no response, then we're complicit in that violence."

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659


SIDEBAR: What the policy promises

A new Tacoma city policy on employee domestic violence promises:

•Support and assistance for employees who are victims of domestic violence

•A safe work environment for victims

•Zero tolerance for the use of city time or resources to engage in domestic violence

•Education and training for employees on domestic violence issues

•Investigations on all allegations of domestic violence by city employees on city time or using city resources