A lot of bricks have been thrown at Sheriff Turner recently for requesting an increase in the department budget. From my perspective it would be professionally irresponsible for Sheriff Turner not to request what he and his command staff, with a combined 145 years of law enforcement experience, feel is needed for the WWSO to be proactive and to reduce the potential liability for the county. It would also be irresponsible for the public and county commissioners to brush off or ignore that informed request.
Here are some of the reasons I support the request:
- When the jail opened in 1982 there was a cook, 19 officers and 25-30 inmates on the average. Today that inmate population averages in the 90s with the same cook and 19 officers. Many of those inmates come in with medical problems and no medical insurance, so the County becomes responsible for their care. That can include communicable diseases like MRSA, with no trained medical staff.
- The department lost two officers over the 2010 budget level.
- The uniforms provided the officers are polyester and flammable. If an officer were to have their uniform catch fire at a fire they respond to, the county could be open to a very expensive lawsuit.
- Many crimes in Walla Walla County are not investigated, unsolved or not prosecuted because there are no detectives or adequate personnel to serve the civil papers mandated by the State to solve all the crimes.
- Walla Walla County is 20th in population in the state, but is sixth in the number of gang members that are sent to jail.
- Deputies postponed a COLA to help with the budget. They and the department should not be penalized by giving the same percentage increase to all departments. The postponed COLA should be built into the base before any increase is given.
- A building can be painted later, a road can be patched later, but a victim cannot be unvictimized later.
- WWSO provides personnel, training, and leadership to the local SWAT team that was successful in the recent hostage situation.
- A number of the items in the sheriff's request are one time that will improve the effectiveness of officers, provide long term benefits at little cost, and reduce the liability exposure of the County.
Sheriff Turner has stated that he will do the best possible job with the funds the commissioners provide, but for the reasons above and many more, I hope the commissioners will be generous toward the request. In the words of a commercial, "Pay some now or pay a lot more later."