In this series
Series overview; a look at crime rates and personnel numbers over the years; and the state laws that make up the law enforcement framework.
How many officers does an area need? A look at the many factors involved in making judgments about staffing levels.
Local officials share their views on the outlook for Walla Walla County; and a detailed look at local law enforcement budgets.
Following state and national trends — and likely surprising to some people — Walla Walla County statistically is a much safer place today than 30 years ago or longer.
Despite rises in violent crime three of the past four years and residents’ concerns over recent high-profile murders, assaults, rapes and convenience store robberies, numbers of reports of such occurrences here have waned dramatically since 1980.
Meanwhile, the number of local, commissioned law enforcement officers has increased and, in most cases, is at or near state averages and rates considering the population.
Three decades ago, a total of 54 officers patrolled countywide, numbering 1.14 per 1,000 residents. Last year, 77 officers were on board, amounting to a per-thousand rate of 1.31.
The rate has deteriorated from 1.40 in 2000 when 76 officers were on duty and our population was smaller, but has held fairly steady over the last five years.
Meanwhile, tallies of major violent and property crime reports — called “Part One” offenses — in 2011 showed nearly half the occurrences as there were in 1980, the total declining a whopping 41.3 percent.
Statistics compiled annually and available online from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs reveal that violent crime (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) countywide was 40.4 percent higher in 1980 than last year. Property crime, which entails arson, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft, decreased 41.3 percent during the period.
Since 2000, violent crime has dropped about 23 percent and property offenses are down 12.9 percent, for a total decline of 13.9 percent. The total rate per thousand residents decreased from 45.4 to 36.
Because the numbers of reports throughout the county are relatively small, yearly increases and decreases of several percentage points are common. For instance, total reports last year rose to 2,119 from 1,981 in 2010, a 7 percent increase. But crime was down 11.1 percent in 2010 from figures in 2009.
In 1980, a total of 3,608 “Part One” offenses were reported in the county. The number dwindled for several years, then shot back up in the ’90s, peaking at 3,861 in 1995 when the area was experiencing its first wave of significant gang activity.
The total hasn’t surpassed 3,000 since 1998.
The overall, decades-long downward trend in the crime rate here is consistent with other communities in the United States and the rest of Washington.
Statewide, total property and violent offenses decreased 13.2 percent from 2000 to 2011.
Last year alone, the total occurrences of major crime in Washington declined 3.4 percent from 2010, including a 5 percent drop in violent crime and 3.3 percent in the more-numerous property offenses.
Nationally the number of serious crimes continues declining, as well, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report.
Although a different agency — the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics — reported an 18 percent increase in violent crimes last year, those figures included low-level, simple assaults that are not counted in the FBI’s crime data that tallies aggravated assaults.
The FBI figures say four percent fewer violent crimes were reported in 2011 than the previous year. Property crimes decreased by nearly 1 percent.
Violent crime throughout the country also dropped 5.5 percent from 2009 to 2010 — even during the struggling economy — and fell nearly the same amount in 2008.
The New York Times reported the rate in 2010 was the lowest in nearly 40 years and left experts puzzled for explanations.
“There was no immediate consensus to explain the drop,” wrote correspondent Richard A. Oppel Jr. when the statistics were released in May of last year. “But some experts said the figures collided with theories about correlations between crime, unemployment and the number of people in prison.
“Take robbery: The nation has endured a devastating economic crisis, but robberies fell 9.5 percent (in 2010), after dropping 8 percent the year before.”
The year 2010 saw the eighth consecutive annual decline in violent crime. Meanwhile, according to research by the Pew Center on the States, that was the first time in nearly 40 years the number of state prisoners declined nationwide.
Bloggers such as Reynaldo Guerra, chair of the Houston (Texas) Civic Coalition and a small business owner, suggests explanations he claims are “the most scientifically investigated and the most provocative.”
A decrease in the number of children exposed to lead paint, which has been linked to aggressive/impulsive behavior.
A reduction in the number of unwanted babies following the legalization of abortion in 1973.
And the number of immigrants moving into communities. “The statistics have overwhelmingly shown, both recently and for the last 100 years, that crime rates among immigrants are drastically lower than non-immigrants,” Guerra wrote.
“... Immigrants leave their home country and family in search of jobs and a better livelihood for themselves and for their families back home. They have much to lose by committing a crime.”
Local officials have their own takes on our crime rates — and why most people believe the area is more dangerous although numbers of offenses actually have dropped dramatically over time.
Gang involvement has resurfaced since 2000, adding shootings and baseball bat clubbings to statistics that primarily had been limited to less-serious encounters such as barroom fights.
Proving the point, prison authorities say the inmate population is, on the whole, more violent, mentally ill and drug-addicted than in the past.
Chuck Fulton, retired Walla Walla police chief, addressed the phenomenon in an interview with the Union-Bulletin last spring. He said criminals didn’t used to be as violent or “totally crazed” as they are now.
As for the actual numbers decreasing, he credits the onset of community policing, neighborhood watches and other forms of crime prevention, in addition to interagency cooperation.
In a column published in March, Fulton also stressed the need to support high-quality, early learning opportunities for kids.
People in the 18- to 24-year-old age group commit much of the crime in a community. Police Capt. Terry Heisey said he believes, with the Baby Boomers aging, cities and counties were populated by a larger percentage of young adults back in the ’80s.
Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, agrees. “I believe we have fewer people in the (18-24) demographic and people are getting older,” he said.
Social media and bloggers may also play a role in the perception that Walla Walla is a more dangerous community now than in past years.
Before instant and widespread communication on the Internet started in the late 1990s, residents were less aware of emergency dispatches, many of which turn out to be false alarms or much less serious than initially reported to law enforcement.
Walla Walla police Chief Scott Bieber maintains that traditional media reports also can impact the “perception of safety.” The city is small and has experienced, as a whole, decades of declining crime, but now is seeing an uptick. News articles may leave the impression more violence is occurring than actually is the case.
“If we have a gang shooting, it’s on the front page of the U-B,” he said. “In Vancouver (Wash., where he used to serve as police commander), if we have a gang shooting, it makes the paper somewhere.
“It isn’t front page news anymore.”
Walla Walla Police Department
Walla Walla police generate the vast majority of “Part One” reports because most residents of the county live in the city. In 2011, for example, the number of such offenses in the city of Walla Walla amounted to 1,524, with a total of just 595 from College Place and unincorporated areas of the county.
In 2000, 175 violent crimes were reported in Walla Walla. The numbers dropped steadily until 2004 and 2005, then continued a decline — with the exception of 2008 — until 2010 when 117 violent offenses were reported.
The figure last year spiked to 130, amounting to 4.1 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. That’s a higher per-thousand rate than each of the Tri-Cities, but the numbers of such local offenses still were 25.7 percent fewer than 2000 figures and 42.2 percent below the 225 reports generated in 1980.
Instances of property crimes yo-yoed up and down during the 11-year period that ushered in this century, but settled at 1,394 in 2011 — a 7.5 percent increase from 2010, but an overall decline of 18.2 percent since the year 2000.
Mirroring the downward trend in violent crime the previous 31 years, property crime levels were at about 41 percent of those in 1980.
Overall, residents experienced 19 percent fewer reported crimes in 2011 than 2000, the statistics show, while the state as a whole dropped about 13 percent.
The rate of 65 crimes per 1,000 residents declined to 48.1 during the period. But the 2011 figure still came in higher than the 38.3 statewide average.
The Walla Walla police force (protecting an estimated 31,670 residents in 2011) numbered three fewer commissioned officers last year than in 2010 because of budget reductions, bringing the total to 42. Because an officer retired this year and the position will remain unfilled, the number now is 41.
The statewide average for cities of 25,000-50,000 last year was 47.
But the 1.33 local rate per 1,000 residents remained above that of 1.27 for the small-city population spectrum.
In 1980, 33 commissioned officers protected Walla Walla’s 25,553 residents — 1.29 per 1,000 — when the total “Part One” offenses were 41 percent higher.
Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office
Total “Part One” offenses during 2011 in areas of the county outside city limits totaled 393, about 8 percent lower than the 427 reports in 2000.
Although the numbers are relatively small, violent crime reached its high during the decade at 40 offenses in 2002, dropped significantly the following year, then saw peaks and valleys through 2007 when it tallied only 17 offenses.
But increases of 12 percent, 26 percent and 29 percent the following years resulted in 31 violent offenses in 2010 — up about 15 percent from 2000.
Violent crime actually decreased last year in the unincorporated county areas by about 19 percent. Twenty-five such crimes were reported. That’s 44.4 percent below the 45 reports compiled in 1980.
Property crime often moved in inverse proportion to violent crime. For instance, last year those offenses rose about 7 1/2 percent from 2010 to 368.
A total of 670 such crimes was logged by sheriff’s deputies in the year 1980 — nearly double the 342 reported in 2010. Between 2000 and 2011, the number dropped 8 percent.
The crime rate per thousand last year in the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction of 18,350 people remained lower than the state average. The statistics revealed 21.4 crimes per 1,000 (down from 24 in 2000) with the state average of about 38.
The Sheriff’s Office employed 16 full-time commissioned personnel back in 1980 when the population of its jurisdiction stood at 15,940. By 2000, the force numbered 22 and rose to 27 during the decade, ending with 1.45 officers per 1,000 residents in 2010.
Last year’s total reflects 25 officers, two fewer, amounting to a rate of 1.36 per 1,000 residents.
State averages for county jurisdictions of 10,000 to 25,000 in 2011 were 21 commissioned officers, equating to 1.37 per 1,000.
College Place Police Department
As one might expect, percentages of both violent and property crimes in the community of College Place (pop. 8,780 in 2011) swing dramatically year-to-year because of the small numbers reported.
For instance, violent crime rose 100 percent in 2007 compared with the previous year. But that was an increase from four such reports to eight. The next year — 2008 — saw a 62.5 percent decline to three.
Last year, 13 violent “Part One” offenses were reported. That’s 23.5 percent fewer than the 17 logged in 2000, but 225 percent more than the four in 2010.
There were 12 violent offenses reported back in 1980.
Property crimes at that time numbered 299, but lowered to 136 at the turn of the century. By 2011, the total was up to 189 — a 39 percent increase from the year 2000.
Adding the figures together, the total number of offenses increased 32 percent during those 11 years. But taking into account the population increase of 1,350 people, the rate per thousand increased only a couple of points — 23 in 2011 compared to 20.6 in 2000.
The number of commissioned officers actually dropped by one during the decade, according to the state law enforcement associations statistics.
In 2011, the city employed 10 commissioned officers. Although that was twice the number on the force 30 years before, it was three fewer than the state average in 2011 for cities with 5,000-10,000 residents.
The law: cities
Powers vested in legislative bodies of noncharter and charter code cities.
The legislative body of each code city shall have power to organize and regulate its internal affairs within the provisions of this title and its charter, if any; and to define the functions, powers, and duties of its officers and employees; within the limitations imposed by vested rights, to fix the compensation and working conditions of such officers and employees and establish and maintain civil service, or merit systems, retirement and pension systems not in conflict with the provisions of this title or of existing charter provisions until changed by the people ...
Appointive officers — Duties — Compensation.
The appointive officers shall be those provided for by charter or ordinance and shall include a city clerk and a chief law enforcement officer. The office of city clerk may be merged with that of a city treasurer, if any, with an appropriate title designated therefor. Provision shall be made for obtaining legal counsel for the city, either by appointment of a city attorney on a full-time or part-time basis, or by any reasonable contractual arrangement for such professional services. The authority, duties and qualifications of all appointive officers shall be prescribed by charter or ordinance, consistent with the provisions of this title, and any amendments thereto, and the compensation of appointive officers shall be prescribed by ordinance: PROVIDED, That the compensation of an appointed municipal judge shall be within applicable statutory limits.
[1987 c 3 § 14; 1967 ex.s. c 119 § 35A.12.020.]
Severability -- 1987 c 3: See note following RCW 3.70.010.
Mandatory duties of code city officers.
Except as otherwise provided in this title, every officer of a code city shall perform, in the manner provided, all duties of his or her office which are imposed by state law on officers of every other class of city who occupy a like position and perform like functions.
[2009 c 549 § 3031; 1967 ex.s. c 119 §35A.21.030 .]
Regulation of activities and enforcement of penal laws.
All code cities shall observe and enforce, in addition to its local regulations, the provisions of state laws relating to the conduct, location and limitation on activities as regulated by state law and shall supply police information to the *section on identification of the state patrol as required by chapter 43.43 RCW.
[1983 c 3 § 59; 1967 ex.s. c 119 §35A.21.161 .]
*Reviser’s note: The “section on identification” was renamed the “identification and criminal history section” by 2006 c 294 § 1.
The law: Sheriffs
The sheriff is the chief executive officer and conservator of the peace of the county. In the execution of his or her office, he or she and his or her deputies:
(1) Shall arrest and commit to prison all persons who break the peace, or attempt to break it, and all persons guilty of public offenses;
(2) Shall defend the county against those who, by riot or otherwise, endanger the public peace or safety;
(3) Shall execute the process and orders of the courts of justice or judicial officers, when delivered for that purpose, according to law;
(4) Shall execute all warrants delivered for that purpose by other public officers, according to the provisions of particular statutes;
(5) Shall attend the sessions of the courts of record held within the county, and obey their lawful orders or directions;
(6) Shall keep and preserve the peace in their respective counties, and quiet and suppress all affrays, riots, unlawful assemblies and insurrections, for which purpose, and for the service of process in civil or criminal cases, and in apprehending or securing any person for felony or breach of the peace, they may call to their aid such persons, or power of their county as they may deem necessary.
[2009 c 549 § 4050; 1965 c 92 § 1; 1963 c 4 § 36.28.010. Prior: (i) 1891 c 45 § 1; RRS § 4157. (ii) Code 1881 § 2769; 1863 p 557 § 4; 1854 p 434 § 4; RRS § 4168.]
Duty to make complaint.
In addition to the duties contained in RCW 36.28.010, it shall be the duty of all sheriffs to make complaint of all violations of the criminal law, which shall come to their knowledge, within their respective jurisdictions.
[1963 c 4 § 36.28.011. Prior: 1955 c 10 § 1. Cf. Code 1881 § 2801, part; 1869 p 264 § 311, part; RRS § 4173, part.]
Powers of deputies, regular and special.
Every deputy sheriff shall possess all the power, and may perform any of the duties, prescribed by law to be performed by the sheriff, and shall serve or execute, according to law, all process, writs, precepts, and orders, issued by lawful authority.
Persons may also be deputed by the sheriff in writing to do particular acts; including the service of process in civil or criminal cases, and the sheriff shall be responsible on his or her official bond for their default or misconduct.
[2009 c 549 § 4051; 1963 c 4 § 36.28.020. Prior: 1961 c 35 § 2; prior: (i) Code 1881 § 2767, part; 1871 p 110 § 1, part; 1863 p 557 § 2, part; 1854 p 434 § 2, part; RRS § 4160, part. (ii) 1886 p 174 § 1; Code 1881 § 2768; 1863 p 557 § 3; 1854 p 434 § 3; RRS § 4167.]