WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner announced last week the jail will no longer hold people who have been arrested for certain misdemeanor crimes.
In a memo sent to law enforcement agencies Oct. 9, Turner wrote, “Due to budgetary restrictions and constraints, effective immediately, the Walla Walla County Corrections Facility will not house nonviolent, nonweapons related misdemeanor charge arrestees, absent any warrants.”
The change in procedure won’t mean big changes for local law enforcement, according to Undersheriff Edward Freyer and Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber.
“I don’t think it’s going to change dramatically how we do business,” Freyer said. “It’s not a blanket rule.”
People arrested for drunken driving, for example, won’t be released until sober, and suspects in misdemeanors involving domestic violence, gang activity or other potentially harmful activities may still be held until their first appearance in court.
“Every situation is different,” Freyer said. “That’s why we have the discretionary component. If someone is going to continue to pose a risk to the public, they will remain in custody.”
Freyer and Bieber both said discretionary booking is common practice already.
“We do it every day,” Freyer said.
When the jail is full, there is a booking level,” Bieber said, adding the Vancouver, Wash., department where he used to work had similar procedures with the Clark County Jail.
Bieber also said the Sheriff’s Office has been very good about holding higher-risk misdemeanor arrestees.
“The Sheriff’s Office has been very easy to work with,” Bieber said.
Despite the claimed low-impact to daily operations, it isn’t yet clear how much money the Sheriff’s Office will save.
According to Bieber, the city of Walla Walla pays an hourly or daily rate for people it arrests who are lodged in the jail. Reducing the amount of time arrestees spend in jail could save the Walla Walla Police Department money, but will also affect the Sheriff’s Office revenue.
According to Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle, the majority of misdemeanor arrests are made by city police.
Sheriff’s Office budget projections for 2013 show revenue from the Walla Walla Police Department down $110,000.
“We’re just hoping (the change) will render some reductions,” Freyer said. “It hasn’t been in effect long enough to do any kind of analysis.”
Freyer added the practice is fairly widespread among law enforcement agencies.
“It’s done across the country all the time,” Freyer said.
Luke Hegdal can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8326.