City manager: Finding right balance is a challenge

Nabiel Shawa says the city is looking to address the recent increase in crime but needs to fund other services, too.

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WALLA WALLA — Providing adequate police protection is a priority for the city of Walla Walla, according to City Manager Nabiel Shawa.

Next year, the $7.81 million proposed budget for the department amounts to 31 percent of the city’s $25.1 million general fund.

In fact, he said, gangs and violent crime have been identified as one of the two greatest threats to the city. (The other is failure of critical infrastructure.)

But how many police officers ideally should be employed is an unanswerable question, Shawa believes. Comparing the number of officers per 1,000 residents with other jurisdictions may be a common tool, but can lead to an incomplete and misleading conclusion.

“There are way too many variables” and no magic formula, he said.

Shawa agrees there is a “loose linkage” between a city’s crime rate and the number of officers present on the streets. For instance, crime in the city of Walla Walla is inching upward as the number of officers has decreased the past couple of years.

“(Crime) is not out of control here, but it is ticking up and we have to address it,” Shawa said.

Therefore, he maintains, the city needs to look at how it’s focusing, training and deploying resources. In addition, a strategic plan should be developed with community organizations to reduce violent crime in a more cohesive and tactical manner.

“Let’s pull together to engage these groups,” he said.

A formidable challenge is to balance properly between departments the allocation of scarce funds to keep Walla Walla a great city, according to Shawa.

Providing library services, maintaining parks and a vital recreation program for youth, for example, ultimately will contribute to reducing the level of crime, even though the money isn’t being used to put more officers on patrol.

“It’s a real delicate balance and I think we’ve come reasonably close to striking the balance,” he said.

“It’s not perfect, though.”

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