Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Sorry Chief, you blew it

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 4, 2011 at 8:29 am with 12 Comments »
May 5, 2011 9:45 pm

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. ah…the good old days of Personal Accountability are long gone folks. And BTW…Atlas has begun to Shrug…Guess we may not get back to those simpler times until after the next revolution considering the PERMANENT Economic downturn brought to a neighborhood near you by PEAK OIL, Government overlegislation/regulation, A loss of faith in God, Climate change, and overcomplex society, etc etc….

  2. BlaineCGarver says:

    It’s true…one awshit wipes out 10,000 attaboys.

  3. smokey984 says:

    it may be true, but it don’t have to be. All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing…Hence why its true. Make a commitment from here on, that no evil goes unchallenged.

  4. BlaineCGarver says:

    Smoky, why are you looking at that mistake as evil? It hardly approaches that level, IMO anyway.

  5. smokey984 says:

    Because inherently somebody misled or didn’t tell the truth it would appear based upon Brian’s writing. I understand we have limited knowledge of the incident, So maybe Ive jumped the gun so to speak. But if in fact there was some sort of cover up or dishonest police work then accountability is in the order of the day.

  6. Do not worry,the mistake has been swept under the rug and now it will be back to business as usual.Stay tuned for any cover ups in the future!

  7. Hence the reason for my comments!

  8. Earth_watch says:

    From what I’ve seen the “just leave the police alone” cry is only about 1% of the comments here and in other media sources… not fifty-fifty.

    The bigger problem with this letter is that it, like many of the TNT blogs and articles, missed two critical points: much more was done wrong than is still being revealed yet (the alert should have gone out within the first hour of the abduction not six hours later when the spokesperson was by then “over-medicated”… the shameful reasons for that delay will surely come out in the lawsuit) and no one is questioning the process (which has since been changed) we’re pointing out that no matter what the error or situation the Police Chief CANNOT LIE about it. Which he did. Which is the problem here. Which is why 99% of the comments I’ve seen are calling for the Chief, and everyone helping cover for him, to be fired.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Earthwatch-

    While I appreciate your viewpoint, I’m going to have to disagree. Amber Alerts are one tool in a potential kidnapping investigation. If utilized properly they have the potential for being extremely helpful, however, there are reasons for the delays that are not apparent to someone not intimately involved in these types of cases. Simply put, if the police have a subject they are looking at and are actively attempting to locate, an Amber Alert will do nothing short of alerting the abductor. This will be counter to any efforts to locate the child. When the trail gets cold the Amber Alert is issued. It may not seem apparent to people after the fact, but with the exception of the sleeping incident this case was handled extremely well.

    The Chief’s mistake was that he chose to spare the Public Information Officer any further embarassment over the systemic and human failure that caused the delayed alert. That was compassionate but ill advised. He got his punishment, a public shellacking, and now, in my opinion, it’s time to move on. Tacoma has been well served by this police chief, despite this incident.

  10. humble1 says:

    Well said Brian, the other TNT articles didn’t cover the points you just clarified.

  11. Earth_watch says:

    To: O’Biran and Humble 1

    Truly, I’m not trying to have the last word, here, but your position seems to be that protecting fellow police takes priority over being honest with the public.

    Although I appreciate your intimate insider explanation of why Ramsdell covered-up for Fulghum, knowing his reason still doesn’t excuse their cover-up…

    … and I still say, there’s much more to the initial delay than is being admitted to. Sadly, it’ll probably only come out in the lawsuit, but I believe we’ll eventually learn that the police chose to harass the Linnick family for hours instead of focus on the abduction. That was the first damaging delay which still hasn’t been accounted for. Don’t blame us for dragging this out when that information comes out later and the outrage starts all over again.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Earth_watch,

    Your expectation that we will someday learn that the “police chose to harass the Linnick family for hours instead of focus[ing] on the abduction,” is both shocking and common. This level of mistrust is one of the reasons I chose to spend a great deal of my free time writing this blog. My goal is to provide context and character to the law enforcement profession, to let people take a peek behind the scenes, and do anything I can to shine a light on whom we are and what we do.

    I meet people every day on my job, some of whom inherently trust everything we do and some who wouldn’t trust us to walk their dog. Some clarity might tarnish our perfection to the former group, while it also could demonstrate that we can be compassionate professionals to the later. Thanks for your comments, and I hope you keep reading.

    Brian O’Neill

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