Walla Walla’s first town hall meeting focused on the police department

Walla Walla Police Department

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — The Walla Walla City Council held their first virtual town hall meeting Thursday night, and it dove into police funding, issues surrounding employee tattoos, and policies and procedures.

The first slide show during the meeting regarded police fundings and their budget.

In 2019-20, the Walla Walla Police Department’s budget was $19,885,250. That is more than a quarter of the general funding for the city. Nearly six million dollars of the budget goes towards salaries for personnel.

The department spends nearly $20,000 per year for ammunition. Most of the ammunition goes towards training and tests for the officers. The annual training budget for the police department has more than doubled in the last five years. In 2015, the training budget was $60,000. In 2019, the budget was $184,080.

The meeting then focused on issues surrounding tattoos on employees. This comes after a Walla Walla police officer’s tattoo caused controversy in the community.

Walla Walla City Attorney Tim Donaldson spoke about the rights of police officers. In his speech, he mentioned that tattoos are a form of speech, and therefore entitled to the first amendment. The police department also has an “on-duty” tattoo covering policy that is enforced.

The final section of the town hall meeting was about policies and procedures of the police department.

Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber spoke about the culture of the department. A culture that focuses on values, beliefs, philosophies, attitudes, behaviors, and practices.

Chief Bieber described the hiring process to become a police officer and the training that goes into becoming an officer.

There are five steps to become a police officer in Walla Walla, with the final step being a personal history statement for anything that could disqualify someone.

All police officers must complete 24 hours of training per year to maintain their certification. Officers are required to go through crisis intervention training and de-escalation training. In 2019, the police department trained for 7,141 hours based on the 43 officers working.

One of the last things that was talked about was the reason for deleting the Walla Walla Police Department Facebook page.

The social media account was shut down after multiple statements regarding Officer Nat Small’s tattoo became “a place for people to air their grievances and vent,” said Chief Bieber. He said that the comment section was filled with personal attacks, insults, and name calling.

“I and the entire Walla Walla Police Department will NOT tolerate racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, LGBTQ discrimination, thoughts, speech or action,” said Chief Bieber. “We stand against discrimination in all forms.”

The next town hall meeting is July 23, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The meeting is for public comments and input. There will be a form on the city council’s website to submit comments. All comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on July 17.