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Outside review agrees with Tacoma Police’s improvements since Zina case

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
September 13, 2011 9:20 pm

Since Zina Linnik was abducted and killed four years ago, the Tacoma Police Department has made “significant improvements” in its protocols for child abduction cases, an outside investigator hired to review the case has found.

And once the department adopts a new Child Abduction Response Team concept, the department “will have a comprehensive child recovery strategy” in place, consultant Mark S. Simpson wrote.

“The current policies and procedures related to child abductions” developed since the 2007 kidnapping, “represent a truly significant improvement,” Simpson wrote.

“However, as written, they are insufficient to optimize a rapid, targeted response to the event of a child abduction.”

The city released those and other findings Tuesday as part of Simpson’s 36-page “case study” analyzing Tacoma police’s handling of the Zina case.

(A full copy of the report can be found here.)

Chief Don Ramsdell Tuesday called Simpson’s report “thorough and fair,” adding his department already has made several improvements.

“We’re always continually looking at ways to improve,” Ramsdell said. “As horrific as this event was, we can learn from it.”

As part of his review, Simpson, a retired Arlington, Texas police sergeant-turned consultant who specializes in child abduction cases, conducted multiple interviews of officers and examined detailed case records.

In all, the review cost the city $18,800, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.

“This review does reinforce my belief that the police department did an excellent job in tracking down Zina Linnik’s murderer,” she said.

When Strickland called for the review in May amid public controversy, she said no issue would be off the table. But Simpson largely focused his review on department policies and investigative techniques. The review did not examine whether the department correctly sought to investigate or discipline officers in regards to misleading  public statements about the department’s delays in issuing an AMBER Alert.

“From my understanding, that’s what his task was from the beginning,” Ramsdell said of Simpson’s work. “We dealt with the internal matters separately.”

The council approved hiring Simpson in June, after The News Tribune reported new details about why the Amber Alert for the 12-year-old Hilltop girl was delayed when she disappeared in July 2007.

Court records showed Public Information Officer Mark Fulghum, the only officer then authorized to activate an Amber Alert, fell back to sleep instead of issuing the alert as requested during a 4 a.m. phone call to his home.

In the months that followed, neither Fulghum nor Ramsdell publicly divulged those details when asked what caused the delay. Only after the details emerged publicly this year did Ramsdell and Fulghum receive discipline. Both received written reprimands.

Simpson’s review found the alert “should have been issued at 0400 hours” when Fulghum initially received the call.
“Unfortunately, an AMBER Alert issued at that time would most likely not have saved Zina Linnik’s life,” he added.

Simpson’s review provided a detailed chronological analysis of the case, noting the department had “little procedural depth in how to respond to and investigate an abducted child” at the time.

He agreed with five areas of improvements identified in the department’s own after-action report, and supported the department’s ongoing efforts to develop a “Child Abduction Response Team.”

The team will ensure “the capability of the Tacoma Police Department to respond to and investigate child abductions will not diminish over time,” he concluded.

Tyler Firkins, a lawyer representing the Linnik family, said Tuesday he has not yet received a copy of the review and declined comment. The family is currently appealing the dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit.

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