A body cam on the uniform of a Walla Walla Sheriff's Office deputy.

Funding for body cameras for the Walla Walla Police Department has been added to the proposed Walla Walla city budget, City Councilperson Rick Eskil confirmed to the U-B.

The move was made based on a recommendation from the finance committee made to the Walla Walla City Council at its Nov. 14 study session.

The budget still must be passed after required public budget hearings.

WWPD Chief Chris Buttice gave a presentation to the council arguing for the cameras as well as funding for an additional employee to manage footage generated by the cameras.

Buttice told the U-B that cameras will help support the department’s relationship with the public.

“We are in favor of the cameras, of course,” Buttice said. “It’s about adding additional transparency and building trust with the community. I’m glad it’s on the budget and that we’re going forward with it.”

He said the council should fund the cameras now.

“I want to be proactive in having body cams before any kind of incident occurs,” Buttice said.

In his presentation, in addition to touting the trust and transparency he said the cameras would bring, he spoke about the advantages to the department and his officers.

“Walla Walla police officers want them for their protection,” Buttice told the council.

He said it’s easier for people to make false complaints about officers when the department doesn’t have cameras.

“It protects (officers) from what’s being said about them,” he said. “And captures their behaviors and actions.”

While he insisted the department doesn’t have many of the issues that have come up nationally, he said departments must be proactive in maintaining a trusting relationship with the public.

“Trust in law enforcement is not what it once was,” he said.

Deputy City Manager Elizabeth Chamberlain, who is the acting city manager during the search for a replacement of recently retired Nabiel Shawa, presented the finance committee’s recommendation to add cameras to the budget without changing any totals.

“We considered what we could present to the finance committee in order to keep a balanced budget but also add a body camera program,” Chamberlain said. “This was not an easy issue to figure out … But also, I know this was a program (the) council was supportive of including in the budget.”

The funding will be initially provided by using salary savings from this year from unfilled positions.

Salary savings will pay for the first year of the five-year lease of equipment.

In addition to the cameras, the city is funding training costs and the salary for an additional records clerk required for managing camera footage.

To help do this, the council will move $75,000 allotted for a homeless housing at the Walla Walla Sleep Center to help fund the camera program.

Eskil said this can be done because that money was replaced by a grant for the Sleep Center.

Overall, the cost for the city to have body cameras for its officers from 2023 through 2027 — including the cost of an extra employee and all training — is $885,450, according to a city document.

This breaks down to $150,290 in 2023, $173,210 in 2024, $179,900 in 2025, $187,120 in 2026 and $194,930 in 2027.

Noah Leavitt, a Walla Walla resident and a civilian member of an advisory committee to the WWPD, said the Council’s decision to fund cameras is the right decision for the city.

“Cameras will add transparency about the officers’ interactions with community members,” Leavitt said. “Cameras will preserve evidence. Cameras will instill trust.”

Leavitt said he thinks cameras can help prevent distrust arising from a future would-be incident.

“Thankfully, our department currently enjoys a high degree of trust from Walla Walla residents,” Leavitt said. “However, as Chief Buttice mentioned during his presentation in Monday’s council work session, it only takes one bad situation for that trust to be seriously eroded or even lost. I think cameras would help mitigate that.”

The budget still needs to be approved by the council, which needs to have public hearings on the budget before voting to pass or reject it.

The council’s second hearing was Wednesday, Nov. 16. The third and final hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. at the council’s Dec. 7 meeting at Walla Walla City Hall, 15 N. 3rd Ave.

Eskil said the council can vote on the budget on Dec. 7 after the hearing.

Leavitt said he thinks the community will support leasing and using the cameras.

“Nearly everyone in Walla Walla I’ve spoken with over the past year and a half about police cameras, no matter their age, ethnicity, race, or employment, are in favor of officers having them,” Leavitt said. “Our community thinks this is a wise long-term decision.”

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.


Jeremy covers courts, public safety and education for the Union-Bulletin. He graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2019 with a degree in journalism. He pursued a career in journalism in his 30s because he feels real, dependable news is important now more than ever. He aims to shine a light on both the good and bad that happens in the Valley. He is a big fan of all the EWU sports teams. Jeremy grew up in California but has lived in eastern Washington since 2001. When he’s not working, Jeremy loves spending time with his wife, Hanna, and their Goldendoodle, Nala. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @ub_jeremy.  

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