On Sept. 16, our community suffered a tragedy. The untimely loss of life is always a tragedy.

And of course, it’s always a tragedy when police must use deadly force in the protection of themselves and the community at large.

The Special Investigations Unit from the Tri-Cities recently completed an independent criminal investigation into the actions taken by the Walla Walla Police officers.  

County Prosecutor Jim Nagle determined, based on the findings of the investigation, that the use of deadly force in this case was justified under the law. However, this situation is nonetheless tragic.

When we hire officers, we recruit them because they want to live and work here. Being a member of the Walla Walla Police Department isn’t a steppingstone job — it’s a career destination. We want good people who are invested in the community.

Officers Eric Eastman, Nat Small and Kevin Toon are those special kinds of people we seek. All three have deep Walla Walla roots.

Before officers leave the station, they walk by a sign bearing our motto: Return with Honor.

First and foremost, we want our officers to return — to be safe and to come back from their shifts.

Second, we want them to do nothing that would dishonor themselves, community members or the badge. Officers Eastman, Small and Toon returned home with honor on the night of Sept. 16.

The last officer-involved shooting of a person in Walla Walla took place in 1975. Most police officers, myself included, will serve their entire careers without firing their weapons during a shift, much less wounding or killing someone.

These three men, early in their careers, unfortunately encountered tragic circumstances that resulted in a death, and I grieve for them and for what they now carry. We hire people who want to make our community a better place, and who want to go home after work with a clear conscience — not with the heaviest of burdens.

I cringe every time our officers are dispatched to a call of a suicidal person. We are not social workers, but are too often called upon to assist people in crisis. For the most part, our training and experience help us intervene in a positive manner before the crisis turns into criminal actions.

Regrettably, when a person in crisis engages in behavior that puts the immediate personal safety of others in jeopardy, police officers are placed in a Catch-22 situation — caught in the untenable position of assisting the person in crisis and protecting themselves and others in the community.  

I am saddened by Christopher Borland’s death. His family, friends and loved ones deserve respect and support.

The 911 caller reported Mr. Borland had made suicidal statements. I do not know what had happened in Mr. Borland’s life that led him on a path toward this tragic ending. I do know the painful effects from that ending have rippled outward into the community. And I do know that, whatever his struggle, it was greater than he, his family and his friends could deal with.  

I want to take this opportunity to ask a few questions.

How are you feeling? Have you thought about killing yourself? Have you thought about how you’d do it?

You cannot be afraid to pose these questions to your family members, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and even strangers. And you need to know how you’d answer these questions.

We all need to be surrounded with a network of caring people. If you feel your network is insufficient, you can go to the Reach Out website at reachoutww.com/

resources and find many caring people locally. People who are ready to help you with anything you need.

Reach Out is a local suicide awareness program created by the Suicide Prevention Work Group, of which the city of Walla Walla is a member.  

Unfortunately, the tragic and untimely death of Mr. Borland occurred in the middle of September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. His death certainly created a ripple effect in our community, not only in the grief of his friends and family, but the anguish felt by our officers in having taken a human life.

I want to help create another ripple in our community — one that spreads a message of hope and healing.

I want to leave you with a quote I came across awhile back. It strikes the right chord at the right time for me: “If you never heal from what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.”

It’s time to heal ourselves and help to heal others.

Scott Bieber is the city of Walla Walla’s police chief. He can be reached at sbieber@wallawallawa.gov or 509-527-3757.

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