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Chief doesn’t deserve to be railroaded

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm with 8 Comments »
May 8, 2011 5:51 pm

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 andSunday’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 acknowledgment 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.

This post was cross-posted from Blue Byline.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. ilikebutter says:


  2. sincere says:

    To me it seems as if Brian has no problem with the getting on with business routine.In other words,Let bygones be bygones! Maybe some of the criminals would like to admit their transgressions,be reprimanded and apologize and then go on as if nothing ever happened.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Sincere- The underlying transgression in this issue, as you eloquently phrased it, was not the career-ending calamity that the coverage is portraying. It was a mistake, and I pointed this out in a previous column in my blog (Blue Byline- “Sorry Chief, you blew it!”). As the chief, Ramsdell has been publicly flogged and received a letter of reprimand from his boss, the city manager. My concern is that the excessive coverage could become a force of its own with the result that this leader could be forced out. That would be to the detriment of us all.

    And I also believe that admitting fault, apologizing, and taking one’s lumps should allow one to move forward. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Earth_watch says:

    My comments are mysteriously being deleted, but I’ll post again…

    O’Brien, you can’t call what Ramsdell did a “mistake” when it was deliberate. His actions weren’t “unintentional” as Anderson tries to suggest (if so, we should be very concerned about our Chief of Police having such little control over his own actions), they were pre-calculated as you’ve pointed out, yourself, saying Ramsdell chose to spare Fulghum public humiliation. So, that’s not an unintended mistake, that’s a deliberate lie putting police officers above public honesty.

    Here are my previous posts, which I would appreciate be left posted:


    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 (only years after it was revealed), but 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. Stargel 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 your 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.

    Remember, this only came out because it was revealed years later via subpoena… otherwise the cover-up would be continuing… frankly, I believe there’s still more being covered up that we’re still not being told about (regarding the police choosing the harass the Linnick family in the first hours instead of focusing on the abduction).

    What else is being covered-up that we just don’t know about yet? That’s the atmosphere being bred, here, which you shouldn’t want.

    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.

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    I don’t know about the technical glitches, but I assure you your comments are not being deleted and are appreciated.

    And, although I’ve been called called much worse than O’Brien, my name is Brian O’Neill. Thanks.

  6. scott0962 says:

    Why aren’t the chief’s critics also calling for the city manager’s head? Whatever happened to responsibility at the top? Or does that only apply to uniformed public servants?

  7. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, I must say you are a refreshing tempered tone compared to others, but I’m afraid it can’t smooth over the horror of Anderson’s, Pauli’s and Strickland’s botched handling of Ramsdell’s error. (In answer to Scott0962, yes, many people are calling for the recall of everyone involved in the cover-up.)

    Since this opinion piece has been posted in two different areas:

    – and –

    … I’ll post to the latter.

  8. joyceloveland says:

    Both Ramsdell and Fulghum are great cops, nothing they did was a cause of that child’s death. They followed the regulations that were issues when the Amber Alert issue came up. If it happened anywhere else in the US the same procedures would have been followed. This is not a police issue but an issue that needs adjustment.

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