Badges and budgets: Do we have enough?

A recent uptick has raised worries about an ominous shift after decades of falling crime in the Walla Walla Valley.

UB File Photo:
Walla Walla police officers, along with a Columbia County sheriff's deputy and Garfield County sheriff's deputy, look over domestic violence warrant paperwork for Adan Hernandez, right, after placing him under arrest Thursday morning during the annual interagency domestic violence warrant roundup.

UB File Photo: Walla Walla police officers, along with a Columbia County sheriff's deputy and Garfield County sheriff's deputy, look over domestic violence warrant paperwork for Adan Hernandez, right, after placing him under arrest Thursday morning during the annual interagency domestic violence warrant roundup. Matthew B. Zimmerman

Advertisement

Time was when Walla Walla was known primarily for the state penitentiary and sweet onions.

And a few decades ago — a dying downtown and difficult economic times.

But now, after years of struggle, we’re gaining momentum and national attention.

An awarded Main Street, alone, brings in thousands of tourists a year.

We’re also becoming famous for quality wine and food.

We received a finalist designation this year for the best small town for food in a contest sponsored by Rand McNally in collaboration with USA TODAY.

Last year, we actually won in the category of “the friendliest small town in America.”

But high-profile murders, gang-related armed assaults, robberies and illegal drugs plaguing the community are leaving bad tastes in people’s mouths and wiping smiles off the faces of law enforcement officials.

Indeed, a recent survey of city residents revealed 22 percent were concerned about crime and six out of 10 respondents named some portion of town in which they don’t feel safe.

But money, once again, is scarce and few additional resources are available to curb the concerns.

The county sheriff, John Turner, who took office last year after a hard-fought election battle, has sparked controversy as he tries to rally community support for more money to beef up his department. He says insufficient staffing and obsolete equipment are putting the public — and his deputies — in danger.

While conceding that the local crime rate has actually declined “by the numbers” over the past 30 years, Turner cites a litany of quality-of-life issues he says his office needs to address. The list includes the perceived fear of crime, traffic safety concerns, the presence of gangs in the community and in schools, crime deterrence, reactive versus proactive community policing, tourism, trade and other economic-development impacts.

He’s reached out to commissioners and others for input on how to address the various needs he says should be met.

The annual budget for the Sheriff’s Office is about 28 percent of the county’s current expense fund, which sounds similar to the percentage in other counties in the state, according to Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

As budget-setting time has rolled around again, commissioners are holding purse strings tight as they struggle to provide adequate funding for all county offices next year in the aftermath of a recession, declining revenues in a challenged economy and meager population growth.

The city of Walla Walla finds itself strapped for cash, as well, with only a slightly increased police budget proposed for 2013 that will keep current service levels unchanged, at best.

Public opinion appears polarized on what appropriate law-enforcement levels should be. Some residents believe more funds should be invested. But others, who may be more fiscally conservative, still consider Walla Walla a fundamentally safe, quiet community.

The U-B’s social-media pages are deluged with comments from supporters and detractors whenever the hot-button topic is posted.

What are current staffing levels and plans for the future?

How should the trend of the crime rate and the numbers of existing officers be analyzed?

What makes up a properly staffed and well-equipped law enforcement agency? Is there such a benchmark?

These issues will be explored in a series of articles both here and online in the next few days.

And please feel free to weigh in on this topic of major public importance.

By the book

WASHINGTON STATE CONSTITUTION

ARTICLE XI

SECTION 5 COUNTY GOVERNMENT. The legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall provide for the election in the several counties of boards of county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys and other county, township or precinct and district officers, as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties, and fix their terms of office: Provided, That the legislature may, by general laws, classify the counties by population and provide for the election in certain classes of counties certain officers who shall exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more officers. It shall regulate the compensation of all such officers, in proportion to their duties, and for that purpose may classify the counties by population: Provided, That it may delegate to the legislative authority of the counties the right to prescribe the salaries of its own members and the salaries of other county officers. And it shall provide for the strict accountability of such officers for all fees which may be collected by them and for all public moneys which may be paid to them, or officially come into their possession. [AMENDMENT 57, part, 1971 Senate Joint Resolution No. 38, part, p 1829. Approved November, 1972.]

Amendment 12 (1924) — Art. 11 Section 5 COUNTY GOVERNMENT — The legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall provide for the election in the several counties of boards of county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys and other county, township or precinct and district officers, as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties, and fix their terms of office: Provided, That the legislature may, by general laws, classify the counties by population and provide for the election in certain classes of counties certain officers who shall exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more officers. It shall regulate the compensation of all such officers, in proportion to their duties, and for that purpose may classify the counties by population. And it shall provide for the strict accountability of such officers for all fees which may be collected by them and for all public moneys which may be paid to them, or officially come into their possession. [AMENDMENT 12, 1923 p 255 Section 1. Approved November, 1924.]

Original text — Art. 11 Section 5 ELECTION AND COMPENSATION OF COUNTY OFFICERS — The legislature by general and uniform laws shall provide for the election in the several counties of boards of county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys, and other county, township or precinct and district officers as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties, and fix their terms of office. It shall regulate the compensation of all such officers, in proportion to their duties, and for that purpose may classify the counties by population. And it shall provide for the strict accountability of such officers for all fees which may be collected by them, and for all public moneys which may be paid to them, or officially come into their possession.

SECTION 11 POLICE AND SANITARY REGULATIONS. Any county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in
4 free views left!