Riding shotgun: On patrol with the Walla Walla police

Hadley Jolley

Credit: Johnson
Credit: Johnson
I was shocked and scared when I first noticed the two rifles sitting next to me in the police cruiser. That was the closest I’d ever been to a gun, especially an assault rifle, and there two were leaning upright against the glass that separates the back of the police car, where people who get arrested ride, and the front. I could rub my shoulders against them.

I was going for a civilian ride-along through the Walla Walla police department with Officer Brent Barberich to see what an average night is like for a police officer around the town. It was ten o’clock at night on Friday, October 23.

For a while, we sat in the parking lot listening to the dispatch radio while Barberich explained some of the tricks of a police car. In front of my seat sat a Toughbook laptop, which serves as a computer-operated dispatch. It also displays footage from the camera system within the car.

A switch to the left of the laptop would release the stop-strips from a compartment underneath the trunk, which would flatten the tires of the car behind the police car in case of a pursuit.

“They’re not tactically very good, because more often than not we’re not going to be in front of a car we’re pursuing,” said Barberich.

Officer Barberich estimated that 90% of calls the police department fields on weekends after ten o’clock at night involve alcohol. When I asked about Whitman, he said that Whitman students had been good this year: when the police were called over with a loud party call, it usually only took one visit by the police to get the party to quiet down or break up. He did comment that sometimes Whitman students sometimes didn’t seem to realize that drinking underage was illegal. However, he didn’t mention Whitman in conjunction with any crimes other than loud parties and underage drinking.

“A majority of the people out at night on the weekends are out drinking,” he said.

We eventually left the parking lot and started to drive around Walla Walla.

“If you were in a ride with four different officers, you’d probably have four different experiences,” Barberich said.   “Each officer concentrates on a different aspect of law enforcement… Some guys work on a lot of traffic, some guys on drug dealers or drug usage, some guys work on gangs.”

Officer Barberich focused on gangs.  We drove by multiple houses he said were gang hangouts, none of which I could find again. I became hopelessly lost about five minutes into the drive and didn’t find where I was again until I saw Safeway.

At around eleven o’clock we pulled into a parking lot to set up a speed trap. Officer Barberich was going to let me use the radar gun to catch speeders. I was looking forward to that.

Unfortunately, dispatch came in over the radio calling in a disturbance, so I never had the chance to use the radar gun on any car, much less a speeding car.

I followed Officer Barberich and another officer to the house near campus that someone had called in a complaint about noise. It turned out to be a birthday party that had gotten a bit loud, and so the officers talked to a woman and left.

On the way back to the cruisers, the two officers discussed how brazen Whitman students tended to be with their alcohol use, but said it used to be worse. Now, I guess, we mostly confine our public underage drinking to campus.

Yes, I lost the chance to use a radar gun because somebody had too loud a birthday party. Other than that, it was slow night, at least for the car I was in.

At about 11:20, Officer Barberich dropped me off in front of my dorm. After all, isn’t that kind of their job? Making sure we all get home safe at night?