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Originally published Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 10:36 PM

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Families of slain officers right to give up $182 million claim

The families of the four slain Lakewood police officers were right to back off their claim for $182 million in public money, the Times editorial board says. Though a lawsuit might proceed, Pierce County should review policies to balance public safety with resources.

It is fitting the families of three of the four slain Lakewood police officers backed away from a claim for public money, and that the fourth family may drop a claim already filed. The proposed total, $182 million, was an outlandish sum, and the public rightly reacted against it.

The families say their point was always to get the attention of Pierce County government so that it would take a closer look at prisoners before letting them go.

The primary responsibility for the killings remains with the man who did them, Maurice Clemmons. If he were still alive, the families might be asking for the death penalty, and they would have a strong case for it. But Clemmons has paid that penalty already, having been shot by police trying to apprehend him.

Lesser responsibility, but still a strong responsibility, falls on members of Clemmons' family, whom he called from jail. He told them many times he planned to kill police officers, and they did not warn authorities.

The jail staff might have heard these threats, because they were made over the jail's telephone lines, and recorded. The officers' families argue that someone from the jail should have been listening in — or reviewing the tapes before telling a judge Clemmons' behavior in jail had been good. The county argues that it doesn't have the people to listen to innumerable phone calls.

Setting a policy is a matter for Pierce County leaders to decide. They should take this opportunity to consider what improvements can be made, based on how much money they have and how best to spend it to safeguard the public. It is not a question best suited for a courtroom.

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