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.