At its most intense moments, the drama over Tacoma Police Department’s handling of the Zina Linnik disappearance threatened to overcome the careers of the city manager, the police chief and just about anybody associated with it.
Now that the outside expert has finished his analysis of the investigation the effort comes across as more farce than melodrama. The lack of egregious errors make this whole mess appear to be (with numerous apologies to the bard) much ado about nothing.
The Trib article (9/14) detailed the findings of the consultant hired by the city, Mark Simpson. For the tidy sum of $18,800, Simpson informed the council that the department’s spokesman should have issued an Amber Alert when investigators made the request.
That has to rank as one of the more expensive purchases of the word, “Duh.”
In addition, the consultant advised that the current policies were “a significant improvement,” but added that more improvements were needed. Those improvements were already part of the department’s development of a “Child Abduction Response Team.”
In short, for a tidy sum of money the City of Tacoma supplemented the retirement of a former cop by, a) telling them what they already knew and b) agreeing with changes already in place.
None of that answered the questions raised by the Tribune and other critics of the police department’s investigation into the Linnik disappearance. At the core of these questions were the six-hour delay in issuing the alert and the failure to disclose this delay.
The delay was a failure both procedural and human in origin. The erroneous policy giving sole authority for issuing an Amber Alert to the department spokesperson has been corrected. For his part, Officer Fulghum should not have taken sleep medication while on call, causing him to fall asleep and cause a delay in the alert. The only argument for this part of the issue, then, is whether the punishment was sufficient. That decision rests solely with the chief.
Perhaps more frustrating for critics was Chief Ramsdell’s decision to withhold this error from the public. While it was well within his purview to do so, it has since become clear that a public acknowledgement of a mistake of this nature would have been perceived far more favorably than a public outing of the issue by the local newspaper. Also, had this been vetted early, the subsequent punishment meted out to the spokesperson might have been met with less criticism.
It was precisely this lack of trust in the department that propelled the city to spend money it can ill afford. And now we see that, in terms of the public’s outcry, the consultant was attempting to answer the wrong question.
But the lessons learned by the process itself should prove to be very valuable indeed. To quote the bard, “It’s not enough to speak, but to speak true.”