Bill White makes case for election as Walla Walla County sheriff

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WALLA WALLA - Bill White says he's not in it for the money, "and I'm not doing it for the glory."

White said his motivation in seeking election as Walla Walla County Sheriff "is for the good of the office."

"Obviously, this is the pinnacle of your career," he said. "For the sake of the office, I felt this is something I should do."

White is running against John Turner. For both of them this is their first try at elective office. Both have listed their party preference as Republican.

In terms of qualifications, White listed his 31 years of experience as a sheriff's officer, the last 12 of which have been as captain. In that capacity, he said he has been responsible for working on the Sheriff's Office budget, working with county commissioners and representing the office on various bodies such as the regional mental-health council.

"With that experience, I believe I can step in there and take over without a long learning curve. My temperament is also a plus," he said.

Among things he would change if elected would be improving cooperation with other law enforcement agencies.

"This is one of the things myself and the (current) sheriff don't always agree on," he said.

The sheriff's deputy currently working on gang issues has impressed his counterparts in the city police force, "but the current sheriff likes the county people to stay out of the city. That's one of the things I think I can work more closely with the city," White said.

The same situation applies to the deputy working on narcotics enforcement, he said. That person is already working with city police, "but I want it to be a more formal arrangement."

White said he also wants to continue to help the sheriff's office grow in manpower and technology. During his time as captain, he said he has been successful in finding ways to provide deputies with better equipment, such as computers, cameras and other gear so they can do their jobs without having to come back to the office.

"In order to make these useful, you have to be innovative. That's kind of my job, that's what I do," he said.

But while technology is one thing, manpower is another. White said increasing the number of sheriff's deputies "is going to take quite a few years."

When he started, there were 12 deputies in the office. Now there are 21 officers. That number can grow, he said, but "it's going to take some time and some budgeting on my part ... (however) realistically, that's not likely given the economy."

While there are grants available, "if it's not a long-term grant it's not realistic to use it to increase manpower. We're not going to lose an officer just because the grant runs out."

Another way to increase manpower is the reserve officer program. That program has to be "refreshed" every five-to-seven years because reserve officers are hired by other agencies or leave, White said.

"This year, we did fund for 10 people, so we've got in the budget some of the equipment (they will need). It's not a free lunch. It's not that we can't equip people, but we like to give (reserve officers) new equipment," he said.

The sheriff's office is also already pairing with the city for emergency vehicle training and would work to extend it to other areas.

"It's cheaper for us to train a large number of people," he said. "It's more efficient and maximizes the training opportunities for all agencies involved."

White said he favors restarting the sheriff's K9 program, especially with cross-trained dogs who could do tracking, protect officers and detect drugs. But he noted the K9 program also has high liability and training costs.

The sheriff's previous K9 program "fell on hard times at one point," White said. The last K9 officer badly injured his ankle and then the dog became ill. The animal had to be retired, but the office still paid for its care and treatment.

"We were basically paying for one dog even though he wasn't working," White said.

White agreed this has not been a good year for the county jail, with a highly visible escape attempt, an inmate being assaulted by a gang member with known violent tendencies and an investigation into financial improprieties. He also agreed that the problems could be systemic, but said he is not in charge of the jail.

"That's out of my jurisdiction," he said. "But as part of the team, I think in this case there was an issue of management."

In the escape, the prisoner exploited a weakness in the system. "Somebody should not have allowed that to happen. I would listen to the people who are there. Maybe some people were afraid to talk, my attitude is ‘you can talk to me guys,' and I'm pretty easy to approach."

In regards to an ongoing investigation of the sheriff's office concerning possible financial improprieties, White said the alleged improprieties were discovered by Sheriff Mike Humphreys, who requested the Washington State Patrol and the state Auditor's Office conduct an investigation. White said he couldn't comment further, but said he is not being investigated for any alleged wrongdoing.

In a release, county commission Chairman Gregg Loney also said earlier this month that "none of the candidates involved in the sheriff's election, or members of their families, are suspected of any wrongdoing."

The agencies conducting the investigation, however, have not and will not say who they are investigating.

White said if he is elected his wife, Lora White, would have to resign her job as a clerk with the sheriff's office to avoid a conflict of interest.

In regards to his personal finances, White said he did have to declare bankruptcy in 1992. He had just come off a divorce in which he had to pay most of the bills. After remarrying, he and his wife had a premature child. This led to "a lot of medical and other bills" plus his wife had medical issues.

"It was the only relief we could see. It wasn't the best choice," he said. "But it's off the books now and it's not reflected in my credit history."

In regards to his status in county government, White said, "honestly, I'm not one of the ‘good old boys.'

"I've worked with the line officers. I don't hang out with the county commissioners, although I think they're a great group. I'm a family guy. I don't hang out at the country club or go to clubs or wherever the ‘good old boys' hang out.

"Conversely, I'm not the sheriff and the things (people) have been pointing their fingers at aren't under my control. I can tell you, whoever moves into that office is going to put some changes in place.

"I think you'll find I'm a lot more approachable by both officers and citizens. I think we've got a good group of people (in the sheriff's office.)"

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