Law enforcement leaders across the nation are watching how Washington State plugs gaping holes in police accountability exposed by Tacoma Police Chief David Brame’s fatal shooting of his estranged wife, Crystal, and himself, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. “This case is going to be one of those that will change law enforcement, and thank God,” said Mark Wynn, a former Nashville police lieutenant and national expert on domestic violence.
Washington legislators will introduce a bill next month that would require every police agency to have at least a minimum domestic violence policy by June 2005. Washington would be the first state to set such a standard. Other states would likely follow suit, if for no other reason than legal liability.
Advocates for battered women complain that too many police departments are waiting to be told what to do rather than pursuing urgently needed reforms. “If anything, we’ve seen an increase in calls from the girlfriends and wives of police officers in recent months,” said Terri Kimball of the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network in South King County. “The abusive tactics are lethal and scary.” Victims who seek help from police still aren’t taken seriously enough and have trouble getting clear information about department procedures, she said. “It’s hard to change values and attitudes overnight.”
In the aftermath of the Brame murder-suicide in April, police officials rushed to portray the tragedy as an isolated event. But the Post-Intelligencer identified dozens of officers accused of domestic violence in King and Pierce counties over the last five years. Few faced serious repercussions. Only one was convicted.
Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who told law enforcement officials, “Either you do something about it or it will be done to you,” has sponsored a symposium on police domestic violence and compiled a handbook listing 14 key elements for domestic violence policies.
Washington police chiefs and sheriffs have pledged to develop a model domestic violence policy within a year — something the legislation would require.
The Tacoma Police Department recently completed a draft policy with the help of a coalition of community groups. A spokesman said it differs from the International Association of Chiefs of Police 1999 model on some points. For example, discipline will be determined on a case-by-case basis, rather than deeming domestic violence a firing offense no matter how minor the incident.