Fulton prepares to exchange badge for hammer, nails

The police chief will retire at the end of the month and spend time remodeling his home.

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WALLA WALLA - "Walla Walla has only had two police chiefs in the last 60 years," said Chuck Fulton, the current chief of the Walla Walla Police Department, leaning back in his chair.

"That's kind of unheard of."

Fulton has served as chief for nearly half of that time, and has steered the department through a fair helping of changes in policing equipment and methods common to departments everywhere.

This month, however marks two major changes that will impact the department for years to come: moving into a brand new police station at the beginning of the month, and Fulton's retirement at the end of the month.

"It's going to be hard to leave all the friends, all the good people," Fulton said. "I'm not going to miss dealing with budgets and cutbacks."

Fulton began his career as a patrol officer in 1969, when officers carried revolvers and the department had only one portable radio, reserved for night patrol.

"We were required to polish the bullets we carried on our gun belt," Fulton said, adding the casings were so gummed up with polish they may not have fired.

Officers also carried mace, but it was a far cry from the tasers issued to officers these days, Fulton said, adding altercations with suspects were "a wresting match or a boxing match."

"Equipment today is far better," Fulton said.

Despite the occasional tussle, Fulton said criminals weren't as violent or "totally crazed," as they are now. "Today there's a complete lack of, anything," he said.

The shift in criminal behavior is linked to the influx of gangs in the early 1990s, according to Fulton, and to the rise of the Internet and computers.

"Almost every crime we investigate has some kind of computer element," Fulton said, citing cellphones, Internet scams and electronic records used by drug dealers.

Despite the uptick in violence in the '90s, Fulton said a shift in policing strategy in the early 2000s saw a sharp decline in crime overall.

"Quite frankly, when we started doing community policing, we saw a dramatic decrease," Fulton said.

The estimated 30 percent decline was the result of both a shift to a more proactive approach to crime prevention and to better cooperation between city organizations and law enforcement agencies.

Inter-agency collaboration has become increasingly important due to an increase in the level of criminal sophistication, Fulton said, adding he will miss the collaborative process.

On the other hand, Fulton is looking forward to being able to finish projects on his own time, including a bathroom remodeling project his wife has planned for this summer.

"My wife has really kept me grounded," Fulton laughed. "Even being police chief, you still have to take the trash out. Or worse yet, clean up after the dog in the back yard."

Fulton said spending time with his family, including four grandchildren will be a big priority, but it will be bittersweet to leave the department he's helped mold.

"I feel I've been successful over the years," Fulton said. "The reason I've been successful is because of staff: it's everyone. I'm proudest of the men and women of the department."

Fulton added he's grateful to the community that made his job a great experience.

"I do want to thank the community for the opportunity to be a police officer in Walla Walla for 42 years," Fulton said. "There hasn't been a day I haven't wanted to come to work."

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