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Intervention, not tragedy, for police

Our Opinion

There was no absence of warning signs leading up to the homicidal spree of Clackamas County sheriff's Sgt. Jeffrey Grahn, who killed his wife, two of her friends and himself in a Gresham nightclub on Feb. 12.

But those warning signs, while certainly not completely unheeded, did not lead to definitive action to restrain Grahn's violent tendencies - through criminal charges, forced counseling or other forms of intervention.

We did not believe that the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office or the Portland Police Bureau did anything wrong when, after an earlier investigation, they decided not to further pursue allegations that Grahn was abusing and threatening his wife. But it is also abundantly clear in public records released by the sheriff's office last week that Grahn's violent acts had been predicted, and therefore might have been prevented.

Relatives and friends of the Grahns had witnessed or heard about his outbursts and reported them to the authorities. Earlier actions had resulted in physical injuries to Charlotte Grahn that required medical treatment. It is sadly clear that Jeffrey Grahn's history, as revealed in the ream of documents, should have brought him before a judge - not as law enforcement officer, but as criminal defendant. However, one piece of evidence was missing - corroborating testimony from his wife.

Some things were done right

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office acted appropriately in asking an outside agency - Portland police - to investigate the complaints. And Portland police uncovered a great deal of evidence against Grahn, only to conclude that they could not bring charges without his wife's cooperation.

Many people took the right steps, but tragedy ensued anyway because Charlotte Grahn, like many victims of abuse, was afraid to bring charges against her husband.

Such obstacles to prosecution are the hallmarks of domestic-violence cases and are not unique to cases where the accused is a law enforcement officer. Yet, we believe that police departments and sheriff's departments have a greater obligation to delve deeper into accusations made against one of their own.

It's easy to say in retrospect that more could have been done to stop Jeffrey Grahn. But it's also true that law enforcement officers have a higher rate of domestic violence than the general population. In this case, numerous witnesses reported similar things about Jeffrey Grahn, but in the end all those reports were set aside for lack of testimony from the key witness.

More steps can be taken

Police agencies should use all tools they have available to ensure the appropriate conduct of their officers. These include criminal investigations and internal reviews, of course, but also use of the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which can revoke an officer's credentials if he or she engages in unsuitable behavior.

Police agencies also should step up peer support and employee assistance programs, and they should take complaints about fellow officers with utmost seriousness when those allegations come from multiple sources and with sufficient documentation.

And, sheriffs and police chiefs should be given more leeway - perhaps through legislative authority - to force officers into treatment and support groups and to place officers on leave when spousal abuse is suspected.

In the wake of Grahn's shooting spree, the Clackamas County sheriff is working with a law enforcement behavioral expert to improve the department's programs that support the emotional demands of its employees. Law enforcement agencies around the region should take immediate steps to review their own procedures and programs and initiate improvement by adding additional requirements, intervention and assistance.

Such initiatives are much too late to prevent the immense damage caused by Jeffrey Grahn. But we believe more could have been done in this case, and that law enforcement officials and others should commit to do more in the future.