Under a deluge of 1,891 comments over police operations, the Walla Walla City Council on Wednesday made plans for a three-part virtual town hall series to address public feedback.
About a month of public rallies and emails calling on Council and the Walla Walla Police Department for reform, as well as action over an officer and his controversial tattoo, led up to Wednesday’s discussion with tentative dates and a plan for taking input.
“Will we satisfy everyone? Absolutely not,” Mayor Tom Scribner said. “But hopefully, we will show that we as the City Council and as the city government have been as responsive as possible, as transparent as possible, as caring to various interest and input as possible and that we want to try to satisfy as many people as possible.”
The tension first rose after the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd, a Black man whose death in police custody under the knee of an officer was caught on video. But locally, the focus has been on Officer Nat Small whose military memorial tattoo as a U.S. Marine scout sniper had been called out by the public for the “SS” symbol used by the elite group and later denounced by the Marine Corps for its depiction of an “SS” symbol most closely associated with Nazi white supremacy.
Input from the public over the last month has ranged from calls for police reform, as demanded by the Black Lives Matter Walla Walla movement Wednesday morning, to action over the tattoo, and conversely to reflect overwhelming support for the local force and for Small.
Scribner said four topics need to be addressed in the meetings: police practices and procedures, police funding, the officer Small tattoo, and city statutes.
A proposal for the series was devised between Scribner, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Moss, police Chief Scott Bieber and City Manager Nabiel Shawa, though dates Wednesday had not yet been solidified with Bieber.
The series, Scribner said, will be divided into three sections: Staff report, public comment and Council discussion with possible actions taken.
The town halls will be tentatively set for three Thursdays in July and August at 6:30 p.m.
The first, tentatively set for July 9, would give Bieber a platform to explain hiring, training and deployment practices, and police procedures. Public comment will not be part of this session, but Council organize questions for Bieber and other officials based on public input from emails and other communication.
City Attorney Tim Donaldson will speak on the legal limitations of the employment issues raised, specifically the tattoo, with information on the city’s authority in asking an employee to remove or alter a tattoo.
The city manager or finance director will touch on the city budget regarding police funding, how much of the budget goes to the police department and how the budget is broken down.
The second town hall, tenatively July 23, will provide those interested in providing public comment a three-minute window to state their questions, concerns or suggestions of action after they have heard the details from the first town hall.
This meeting will run three hours. Those who will want to speak will sign up by sending an email to the city clerk after the first town hall is complete.
Council may have to revisit how to fairly choose who can speak if they receive more email requests to speak than the allotted time allows.
The third town hall, Aug. 13 or possibly Aug. 20, will include responses from city leaders on the public comments from the second meeting. They will discuss if they want to make changes, where and why.
Those making presentations will be encouraged to provide visuals in English and Spanish and provide information on where to find current policies, Scribner said.
The series will not necessarily end with the third meeting. The Council may decide to take suggestions and discussions into budget talks or advisory committees or other means of discussion.
“Thank you for making this democracy in action,” Scribner said.
Black Lives Matter Walla Walla did not wait for Council to plan its meeting series to provide its input on reforms. The organization emailed a list of demands to elected leaders on what it called “a starting point for authentic, tangible change and transformational reform within the WWPD.”
The message was sent to Council members, along with the city manager and police chief Wednesday morning, ahead of the Council meeting.
The demands were divided into two parts: “Use of Force” and “Representation and Accountability.” The group says they are against police use of brutality and force and they expect transparency and communication from the Walla Walla Police Department.
Drafted by five organizers, and sourced from research and extensive discussion within the organization, local community members, educators and policy advocates, the demands reflect “a firm stance against police brutality and force” and call for “transparency and communication.”
They request police wear body cams while interacting with the public on duty and document any threat, use of force or firearm. Also requested was the discontinuation of spending on paramilitary equipment and ban of chokeholds, strangleholds and Lateral Vascular Neck Restraints.
They want the police department to adopt the practice of warning before shooting and ban shooting at moving vehicles.
For representation and accountability the first demand is the removal of “any person in any capacity that promotes or bears relation to hate speech of any kind (including but not limited to tattoos, dress, language, social media presence). Any current officer or WWPD employee holding association with hate speech should be terminated, effective immediately.”
Another request is suspension without pay of any officer who has an active restraining order against them.
The letter demanded race and gender statistics of arrests and interactions with people in the Statistical Annual Report, as well as demographic information of members of the police force released to the community.
In the hope of transparency, the group demands independent review boards be adopted to investigate complaints placed against officers and employees of the Walla Walla Police Department, and those investigations become public knowledge.
It also beseeches the police department to contract with community agencies for differential call response, related to mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and welfare checks.
Other demands: The release of training agendas, yearly additional courses and hours officers spend in bias/discrimination training, along with police protocol, in multiple languages, for contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement to encourage transparency with the undocumented members of the community.
Additionally, compensation must be provided for the chief’s Advisory Board and the goals and events should be released to the public, the statement said.
The group is not an official chapter of Black Lives Matter Global Network, organizers said.