Blue Byline

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

Chief doesn’t deserve to be railroaded

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm with 24 Comments »
May 9, 2011 7:46 am

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell must think he’s on a runaway train.

Almost daily, News Tribune articles–including this blog–have dissected his omission of a pertinent mistake regarding the issuance of an Amber Alert during the Linnik murder investigation. Though I disagree with their intent, the stories were objective coverage of an important local issue, and I urge you to read both Friday’s and Sunday’s articles.

Now it’s time to stop this train.

First some historical context. Chief Don Ramsdell took over a very bruised and damaged Tacoma Police Department in 2003, a choice that rank and file officers strongly backed at the time. My impressions of the chief came from my tenure with Tacoma P.D. during the mid-to-late 90’s when then Sgt Ramsdell was my patrol supervisor in the Downtown/Hilltop sector.  Ramsdell had a very respectful approach to the members of the community and a strong work ethic. After contacting some former colleagues at TPD, I gather that he remains a respected leader.

Good leadership is an exceptionally important issue at TPD, which has previously sagged under the weight of poor chiefs. I recall the blustery and offensive Phillip Arreola and the now infamous David Brame. These two succeeded only in ruining the morale of an otherwise vibrant police department. Unfortunately, the media uncovered no objective errors during their respective years as chief.

How ironic then, after eight years of increasing morale and stability at TPD, that a solid and respected chief appears to be tied, by a single error in judgment, to a runaway train fueled by news coverage determined to find the worst case scenario in every tidbit of information.

Who elected Trisha King Stargel, the chief’s critic on the citizen’s panel, as the sole arbiter of truth for a divided committee that has no authority (5-6-11 TNT)? Why do we need to know that the chief might be an impeachable witness when it is very likely he will never be called to testify in a future criminal trial (5-8-11 TNT)? Again, I applaud the in-depth coverage, but I wish it had been as evident when TPD had good reason to investigate a chief. Or two.

I acknowledge that Chief Ramsdell made a mistake. I further acknowledge that I risk being labeled an apologist for these comments. Despite that, I recognize that the chief’s strong leadership, his many contributions to the community, and the support he has received from its most vulnerable citizens hold far more weight than either front page stories about people whose motivations are unclear, or legal issues that are moot.  What was needed in this case was an acknowledgement of the mistake. There was a need for a reprimand and an apology. Done, done and done.

Meanwhile, the train is still on the tracks and gaining speed. Before that momentum carries away all Chief Ramsdell’s efforts at reinvigorating the Tacoma Police Department these last eight years, let’s all take a deep breath.

Leave a comment Comments → 24
  1. smokey984 says:

    I agree, mistake made, acknowledged and held to account. That’s the accepted approach/standard of our society. Unfortunately this standard is a lost art the last 60 years. Mistakes don’t necessarily mean someone has to be fired or drug through the coals, although the hearts filled with hate would argue so…Great opinion Brian, keep fighting the good fight brother.

  2. Mudbone says:

    Railroaded? Huh?!? This is a person who is in a profession which should be held to a higher standard! Fire him NOW!

  3. fatuous says:

    I still think a 30 day suspension without pay is an appropriate punishment for both of the officers.

    However, if their testimony is not going to be worth anything in court, that limits their duties to mainly administrative. That seems pretty important to me.

    I totally disagree with you on your Trisha King Stargel comment. I find it sad that you just don’t get it.

  4. Earth_watch says:

    I doubt if the TNT cares which way this story goes… they’re probably just posting one story after another on the subject (including this ridiculous “railroaded” letter) simply since it’s getting high public attention right now… which it should.

    Ramsdell isn’t being railroaded. He did this to himself, and all we’re doing is noticing. How is that railroading? He lied. Covered it up for four years. Admitted it, then about-faced into a cowering corner with Anderson acting as his awkward buffer.

    O’Neill, as a cop yourself, don’t you care that Ramsdell’s actions (both the cover-up and now this surreal avoidance) puts the creditably of your entire department in question? How does it possibly matter if he’s been a great guy all these years, up until we learned about this? How does previous, to-be-expected, action excuse bad behavior? By that logic, we should let off Zina’s killer based on any possible good things he might have done leading up to the bad? What Ramsdell did (and anyone else contrite in the cover-up) was debilitatingly wrong and damaging to the city. If he’s such a good guy, well, good guys admit their mistakes and step down for the good of the department. He seems to care more about himself, than this city or your police force.

    The reason this is still a topic, one that won’t go away, is that the “letter of reprimand” was an insultingly inadequate response and not nearly the right punishment to fit this crime. Starel is speaking what 99% of the public is thinking. Ramsdell, himself, could stop this train just by now doing the right thing and resigning. If he doesn’t, he only has himself to blame for the coming years of public demanding him to be fired, and the lack of trust he’s smeared over your entire police force. I would think removing a liar should BOOST moral among you. And, sorry, but you inner police moral is less important than maintaining public trust. If you want us to see him as the good guy you say he is, please encourage him to man up by stepping down.

  5. Earth_watch says:

    Remember, this only came out because it was revealed years later via subpoena… otherwise the cover-up would be continuing.

    What else is being covered-up that we just don’t know about yet?

    O’Brien, you’d rather keep things the way they are instead of restoring pubic trust? If so, then we should all be very concerned about that.

    Since the City Manager won‘t, I hope Stargel calls for an outside, independent investigation, top to bottom, and any honest police man or woman with nothing to hide should welcome it.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    As I mentioned in my column, The Trib has done its usual bit of excellent work bringing this mistake to the light of day. The initial public reaction was appropriate–I’d say pissed off would be a good term–and the chief was called on the carpet. The transgression was addressed, the public lashing and written reprimand delivered, and then, I believe, it was time to move on. That’s the sticking point.

    I am now employed by a different agency and have no reason to show favoritism towards TPD. I believe I can paraphrase your viewpoint on this issue as well: the level of public trust in the Tacoma Police Department is not high enough to let this matter go. That’s unfortunate, but I can’t help but think that some of this lingering animosity is a result of David Brame’s distorted leadership and subsequent crime. The current chief has spent eight years trying to put the pieces back together, and I believe that our societal penchant for tearing things down will do more harm than good.

    Ramsdell’s costly error appeared, at least to me, to be his attempt to protect an officer from further embarassment rather than for any personal gain. Again, this was wrong and he was reprimanded. I get the anger and mistrust, and I can guarantee that the chief and his command staff at TPD get it, too.

  7. troublemaker says:

    Bria, thank you for your thoughful comments. I think there are two issues: 1) “protect an officer from further embarrassment”–unfortunately, most police agencies seem to spend a lot of time and energy protecting their folks from acknowledging and being held accountable for mistakes, rather than dealing forthrightly (i.e,. publicly) with mistakes with appropriate discipline. As a result, the public often wonders whether anything is learned from mistakes and whether anyone is ever held accountable. 2) Despite concerns about TPD credibility, Officer Fulghum is still serving as the public face of the Department, most recently on KING 5 TV and in today’s News Tribune. I am not sure this is a wise choice by either TPD or the City of Tacoma, as it communicates disregard for, or a failure to understand, the public’s perception. So I am not sure that TPD or the City “gets it” yet.

  8. Earth_watch makes two fairly gross errors: First, there is no logic at all, only a grotesque attempt to make a point in comparing Ramsdell’ career and recent mistake to that of Zina’s killer. I don’t begrudge your feeling that the Chief’s lie undoes all he’s done in his career. I don’t agree with it and hope no one ever holds you to that standard. But to try to compare a police officer to a child killer is beyond the pale. Second, I doubt that your thoughts represent 99 percent of any population. As a fairly regular contributor to the TNT comments section, you may have fallen victim to the belief that this group of citizens (myself included) is representative of the population at large. There is no evidence that this is the case.

  9. Westend253 says:

    Having known the Chief, he brought a level of accountability and professionalism to the department. But he had been doing this behind the scenes throughout his career.

    Most seem to remember the last thing that they were told or read. The totality of the circumstances can change one’s outlook.

    Did he make a mistake, yep. Did he apologize, yep. Is he trying to move on and run a department in tough fiscal times, yep.

    Eric Anderson is a different story. He appears to back his staff up until they make a mistake and then it appears he has no problem throwing them under the bus.

    Enough is enough. While Bin Laden was captured, the second most important story to the Tacoma people was this? Seems like we are askew with our priorities….maybe it is just me.

  10. The whole “reprimanded” idea is pretty funny considering Eric Anderson went to heroic lengths to say the reprimand was in no way ‘for lying’ which is interesting if you actually listen to the King Stargel event

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybrYXNHMiVw&feature=player_embedded

    and so I ask what does ‘actions speak louder than words’ and a reprimand for lying but not because of lying really mean? What runaway train? The Train is rusted to the tracks like some Camp 6 relic.

  11. Pecksbadboy says:

    Sorry he lied, he deserves to be railroaded or tar and feather and then sent out of town. He is just another politician who has a problem with the truth.

  12. Dear Brian,

    RCW 43.101.021
    “It is the policy of the state of Washington that all commissioned, appointed, and elected law enforcement personnel comply with their oath of office and agency policies regarding the duty to be truthful and honest in the conduct of their official business.”

    The question is: Should police officers who lie be terminated as a matter of public policy?

    The answer is clearly: YES.

    The societal benefits of creating a public policy of police honesty are enormous. If all parties in the criminal justice system believe that police officers would not lie at the risk of losing their careers, issues of credibility regarding police will be greatly reduced, leading to more successful prosecutions, a reduced number of constitutional violations, and fewer liability cases and losses. In addition, officers are increasingly reluctant to cover for fellow officers who have committed acts of misconduct because of increased moral and ethical standards as well as the risk of discipline. If lying for a fellow officer will lead to almost certain termination, such a policy might in time eliminate the “code of silence” completely.

    Source: http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=1458&issue_id=42008

    The opinion you have stated is contrary to State and Federal Law, minimizes the importance of truthfulness from police officers and ask that we return to the “code of silence”. Is your professional relationship with Chief Ramsdell more important than truthfulness and public policy?

  13. TacTown84 says:

    Thank you Brian, Notme and Westend…Finally, some sense in the insanity.

  14. Earth_watch says:

    Holy crow, you boys have certainly spread the word and banded together here.

    Brian, as much as I appreciate your tempered tone, it cannot smooth over the unrecoverable choices of Ramsdell, and the horror of how Anderson, Pauli and Strickland have handled the revelation of this error thus far. The public “flogging” and the tiny slap on the wrist (seriously, a letter that will be removed from his file after two years?) is not appropriately proportionate to this shameful situation.

    “Notme”, I appreciate your zeal to defend Ramsdell, but you missed the point, entirely. No one is suggesting a comparison between Ramsdell and Zina’s abductor… however, many commenters have reacted to the strange logic which Ramsdell’s supporters keep applying to him (“he did a terrible thing, but a few of us know him as a good guy, so the rest of you need to just get over this and move on like nothing happened”) though that line of thought would obviously not apply to others nor should apply to Ramsdell either. Applying that line of thinking to Zina’s killer is simply demonstrating the flaw of that defense. Also, if you skim the many other articles on this topic over the past month (not to mention the other news outlets besides this one) the far-and-away majority want to expect that their Police Chief would never do what Ramsdell did.

    The general public may never know if he made just one bad, bad mistake, or if this kind of cover-up permeates to the very core of TPD… but we shouldn’t have to wonder. In order to move forward, things cannot go back to business as usual; things must change.

    Bottom line, it doesn’t matter what we debate here among the comment column… this situation will have its day in front of a judge and (hopefully) at the discretion of an independent investigation. Meanwhile, you can support your friend but should also respect residents who demand better than this for our city.

  15. Pecksbadboy says:

    Thank you yid!

    The “band of brothers” with thier public relations spin and “we are heros and need to be treated like Gods” is wearing very thin.

  16. tacoman1 says:

    Just reinforced my perception that you are only a propagandist just like the Nazi geroblels. To use miss direction by saying the perpetrator is the persecuted makes your column irrelevant. Bottom line several officers including the chief lied. Bottom line it did not help the poor little girl. Yes I do not buy the line that it had no direct influence on her death and will await the trial for the truth. Please do not disrespect the TNT readers as un informed or unforgiving. The simple truth is that had the chief had fulgum drug tested immediately and immediately told the community we fell asleep on the job they would have most likely easily been forgiven , but to make it come to light four years later and only because of court records tells me they had no intention of ever admitting anything. Get real or go back to policing and stop wasting space in the paper.

  17. controller1 says:

    Brian, Do you really expect that the citizens of Tacoma should just move on after the Chief apologized and received a letter of reprimand? It does not matter if he was the Chief for the last 8 years or the last 25 years. He definetly screwed up (lied & covered up) 4 years ago. If it had been a routine incident, that might have been one thing, but to hide behind the shield in a child murder case is totally unacceptable! Also, in your defense of the Chief, you are comparing him to previous Police Chief’s, which have no bearing on this incident.
    If your friend Ramsdell was willing to coverer up for one Officer 4 years ago, how many more Officers has he covered up for since then? Is this your definition of “Trust”?
    One point I do agree with you on is your statement that former colleagues at TPD feel that Chief Ramsdell is a respected leader. I agree because if my boss would cover up for me , I would think that he is the greatest Leader that anyone in the workforce could work for. I don’t understand how you could have left the TPD with such a great leader who is willing to cover up for any screw up that you might commit?
    And, following this Coverup story for over a month, the only public person that has had the guts to call a liar to his face has been Trisha Stargel from the citizen panel. I nominate her as the City Manager!!!

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    Controller,

    Reading your comments, I can’t help wonder if anything impresses you? An exemplary 25 year police career in a dangerous department, a selection as chief because of an unblemished record in the midst of scandal and mismanagement from past administrations, a selection as chief to turn around a bitterly divided department, and an upward trend of morale and performance during that time…that apparently is worth nothing to you? From that basic understanding of an individual–who, by the way, has never been a personal friend of mine–you go on to assume the absolute worst behavior?

    I truly hope that you do not hold anyone around you to that standard. If so, I pity that person.

  19. Brian O'Neill says:

    Tacoman,

    I don’t know where to start. I’ll try to bypass your poor grammar and so trite references to Nazis (seriously, can anybody do anything that somebody else disagrees with and not get labeled a Nazi? Really?), and try and answer your comments. Officer Fulghum told the truth to his superior (Ramsdell) and Ramsdell decided not to make the admission public because a) it would have made no difference in this investigation; b) he was trying to spare the feelings of a dedicated and very upset officer and c) he wanted to avoid a public shellacking for the mistake.

    Was that a correct decision? Absolutely not. I’ve said as much in my past blog and in comments since that time. Was it a corrupt decision meant to line his pockets, further his career or pervert justice? Not in my opinion.

    Last question: did this mistake erode the public’s trust in the administration? That’s for the city manager to decide, but you can bet he’ll be listening to the public. That’s you and me. I recommend leaving the hate-filled rhetoric in your pocket.

  20. Brian O'Neill says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Yid. “You lie, you die,” is the accepted slogan of police chiefs and supervisors throughout our state. Having said that, the city manager clearly stated that he did not believe the chief lied. Did he leave out a pertinent fact? Yes. Was there a compelling reason to do so?

    That’s the 64,000 dollar question. Time will tell.

  21. controller1 says:

    Brian,
    Apparently, you do not comprehend written opinions! To tell you the “truth”, many things in life impress me, but certainly not a Police Chief who lies and covers -up for his officers. As far as your comment that I assumed the absolute worst behavoir of the Chief, you could not be more right on. There is no place for a Chief who will lie and cover-up. However, it was not an Assumption, it is a fact! Assuming only makes an a.. out of you and me.
    Also, please stay within the “true” issues of comments, not the grammar of an individual. Thankfully, the citizens of Tacoma will not be fooled by the code of silence of your brotherhood in this case!

  22. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, you’re skirting the real issue of why this topic persists…

    It wouldn’t matter if Ramsdell was Gandhi, himself… just because someone may have done some good things in the past, it does not excuse that he LIED to the press and the public and possibly city officials and on official documents. He deliberately allowed the cover-up for four years and never did come clean, himself, until the lawsuit uncovered it.

    The Press is doing nothing more than reporting those facts. Ramsdell did this to himself, has only himself to blame, and you can’t blame the public for expecting better. Ramsdell’s four-years-late insincere apology is not enough to make this go away.

    You say, “Did he leave out a pertinent fact? Yes. Was there a compelling reason to do so?” NO! There is never a reason (no matter how “compelling”) for an inside cover-up to be acceptable. And, anyway, if you’re going to suggest there’s some mysterious unknown reason for his actions, then please do tell! I think the reason you’re being illusive about it, though, is that the “reason” would not be considered an acceptable to the public. Why do you think protecting the moral of the TPD is more important than the public’s trust?

    You’re welcome to support Ramsdell as he goes through this tough time, since (as much as you’d like it to) this is not going to be swept under the rug… I’m glad the public expects better from our Police Chief, as you should, too. Frankly this rally of support for Ramsdell is only bringing more attention to his actions and the public’s anger… and only helping focus on him instead of all those involved who should also be being brought to task.

  23. Earth_watch says:

    Kind of ironic I mistakenly used the word “moral” for “morale”, in the comment above. Having morals within the TPD should supersede maintaining “morale” (which seems to be the reason for the falsified report and cover-up)… It shouldn’t have to be one or the other, though, since good morals (sans cover-ups) should boost morale, anyway.

    Unlike City Manager Anderson’s use of the word, the typos really were “unintentional”… that word cannot be applied to Ramsdell’s deliberate actions, though.

*
We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0