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Sunday, April 27, 2003

"Council responds with sadness, praise for 'stellar' chief" - The News Tribune

...[Councilmember] Lonergan noticed a difference in Brame's demeanor over the past couple of weeks. "He was quieter, more solemn than I was accustomed to," he said. "There was no banter. He looked like he was losing some sleep."...

Council responds with sadness, praise for 'stellar' chief

The News Tribune
Kris Sherman and Susan Gordon
April 27th, 2003

As a shocked city coped with the news that its police chief shot his wife and killed himself, Tacoma City Council members grieved for all involved and wondered how it could happen to a "stellar" law enforcement officer.

"It's a sad day for the city. It's an absolute tragedy for that family. And it's personally devastating to me," said Mayor Bill Baarsma, a longtime friend of Brame and his family.

"It's one of those things where you say to yourself, 'This can't be happening. This can't be happening.' There is an absolute sense of feeling helpless."

Tacoma's council members described Brame as a Tacoma boy made good, a native son who did his family and his city proud by studying public administration at the University of Puget Sound, then rising through the ranks of the Tacoma Police Department to its pinnacle.

Although the city manager hires the chief, the council sets policy.

Council members credited Brame with assuming the top cop job at a time when morale was low in the department and instantly raising its credibility and the spirits of its officers.

"You'd see police officers out there walking around with smiles on their faces," said Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg. "It looked like they wanted to be working. He would come to us and advocate more money for them. He really stood up for them."

Several council members said they knew Brame was bothered by the publicity surrounding his divorce, the animosity brought to light and its possible effect on his job.

"We all felt he was an excellent choice for police chief," said Councilman Mike Lonergan. "Now we know there was a lot churning under the surface."

Councilman Doug Miller saw a police chief "who must have been emotionally and physically drained."

"He was a very good police chief," Miller added. "Tacoma has suffered a great loss."

Councilman Kevin Phelps echoed his colleagues' comments about Brame's professionalism and dedication as chief and said Brame "made a night-and-day difference in the department."

But Phelps, who recently spoke to the chief about his divorce, had no inkling of events to unfold.

"I couldn't have seen this coming in a million years," Phelps added. "I never saw a short temper from Dave. I can't recall seeing him ever raise his voice. In my mind, he just snapped."

Phelps said he tried to reassure Brame when he talked with the chief about his pending divorce about a week ago and tried to convince Brame that the bitterness of the divorce would eventually pass.

"I had no clue I was talking to someone who was this distraught," Phelps said.

Councilmen Phelps and Rick Talbert said they were most upset about the impact of the shooting on Brame's children, who are 8 and 5 years old.

Council members were reluctant to talk much about the future of the city's police department.

Catherine Woodard will do a fine job as acting chief, Councilwoman Sharon McGavick said. One of Brame's greatest accomplishments as chief was promoting more women and minorities into positions of responsibility, she said.

But all the council members said they knew tough days lie ahead for the department.

When asked how the Brame shooting reflects on Tacoma's choice of police chief, Lonergan rephrased the question. Instead, he said he would ask, "Did the city manager make thorough enough checks before making the appointment? That's a good question."

At this point, Lonergan said he can't answer that. But, in the future, the council needs to make sure not only that prospective candidates are thoroughly screened, but also that the city manager provides assistance when needed, he said.

"I don't know that there was any inkling that what happened today was likely to happen," Lonergan said. "But (Brame) clearly was troubled."

Lonergan noticed a difference in Brame's demeanor over the past couple of weeks.

"He was quieter, more solemn than I was accustomed to," he said. "There was no banter. He looked like he was losing some sleep."

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659 kris.sherman@mail.tribnet.com Susan Gordon: 253-597-8756

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