The Tacoma Police Department’s investigation of Zina Linnik’s murder was time-consuming, extensive and intricate. Based on scant information, officers and detectives pursued the case until they had a suspect in custody. The endeavor took a great deal of coordination and professional work. Unfortunately, not all of the work was professional.
By now the story of the medicated sleep that prevented an earlier issue of the Amber Alert has reached critical mass. The mistakes were a combination of 1) unintentional human error on the part of a good cop, and 2) a bad policy that has been changed. Such things happen in police work, as they happen everywhere else. But I disagree with anyone who would argue the point that it matters little when the poor girl had already been killed. That is both unprofessional and shortsighted.
Someone, somewhere, needs to take the heat. While information available to the public is not always the full story, that limited amount clearly suggests that someone should have been Chief Ramsdell. But that admission never came. Instead, questions appeared to be left unfinished, and the full story left unsaid.
All of this left the city manager defending the indefensible argument that failing to air the dirty laundry was okay. It’s not.The city council, on behalf of its constituents, has rightly stepped forward to chide the department for failing to disclose this information. Was it critical? No. Was it an enormous error? Not in this case. But did the failure to voice the error lead to public recrimination and a decrease in trust between the Tacoma Police Department and the citizens it protects?
Yes. In reading news stories, editorials, and op-ed pieces, both online and in print, the public sentiment appears divided between the theme of “They’re all liars and should be fired!” to “They’re good people doing a tough job, so leave them alone.” Somewhere in the middle of this rhetoric is the right answer.
Police critics are not great in number, but they are loud. When their voices swell, a growing number of reasonable individuals begin to listen. Because of this, police departments must make every effort to be above reproach. A recent negative example, the national Egyptian police force, demonstrated the repurcussions of losing the public trust.
None of this is news to Chief Ramsdell and his force. I remember him as an extremely capable police sergeant during my years with TPD, and his rise to police chief was the result of exceptional service and respect for the community. But that level of authority comes with the full weight of responsibility over all aspects of the police department. Any failure should ultimately rest at his desk.
Nothing should overshadow the monstrous action of Zina’s killer. But systemic police mistakes, no matter how small, should never be hidden.