Investigating crime rates in Walla Walla

Ben Kearney, News Reporter

Editors note: this article was updated on October 6 to reflect new information released surrounding a source mentioned in the article

On Sept. 22, a Washington State Patrol trooper was shot in the face after his car was rammed by another vehicle at the intersection of Avery Street and West Poplar Street. The suspect, 37-year-old Brandon D. O’Neel of Walla Walla, threatened to kill any cop shortly after being evicted earlier that day.

While the circumstances of the crime continue to be processed, this is just one of multiple crimes seen in recent times in Walla Walla. More broadly, this case is part of a rise in crime across Washington State. Sergeant Gunner Fulmer of the Walla Walla Police Department pointed to a pattern of crime rates continuing to rise across Washington and in Walla Walla during the pandemic years. One reason that Fulmer lists as having an impact on crime rates is a rise in drug usage due to drug crimes being lifted.

“In our state, they have all but legalized drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin,” Fulmer said. “The newest drug on the streets is fentanyl, and it is killing at an incredible rate across our country. If someone is caught with these drugs, they get three chances before being arrested. These changes in our laws have opened the door to very high drug use and distribution. It is causing an alarming amount of people to get on drugs, and it is playing into all the mental health issues we are seeing all over Washington State.”

Fulmer also noted changes in jailing and court cases as factors contributing to the rise of crime.

“The jail has been emptied out, and courts are not holding individuals that commit crime in jail,” Fulmer said. “Even serious offenses such as drive-by shootings will not hold someone more than a couple days. They will be released until their court date, which could be up to a year.”

Fulmer sent The Wire the statistics of crime in the Walla Walla area over the past two years, noting that aggravated assault, thefts (auto and other) and burglaries have gone up, yet traffic stops, domestic violence and rape charges have declined. Aggravated assaults went from 38 in 2021 to 52 in 2022, and burglaries went from 63 in 2021 to 134 in 2022. In decline, traffic stops went from 2,851 in 2021 to 1,551 in 2022, and domestic violence cases went from 189 in 2021 to 165 in 2022.

Additionally, Fulmer listed the reasons for thefts in Walla Walla and described how the public can become better prepared. 

“[There is a lot of] simple theft: computers, phones, bicycles, purses, wallets, vehicle prowls, home burglaries and vehicle thefts,” Fulmer said. “Keep your stuff locked up; keep your dorm rooms or houses locked up. On campus, the top items taken are computers, bicycles and vehicles [are] gone through.”

Fulmer is currently running for Walla Walla County Commissioner. His campaign platform includes a harsh crackdown on crime.

“It is my firm belief that we must begin implementing tougher stances on crime in this county in an effort to protect both our private and public interests,” reads his campaign website.

Recent stories published by the ACLU also reflect the idea that the current “crime wave” is in fact a myth, as many crimes are in decline.

Union-Bulletin news reporter Emry Dinman spends a lot of time writing for the “courts and crime” section of the paper. He has found little fulfillment in this style of reporting.

“I do not think there are many good aspects of writing about crime,” Dinman said. “I personally think that the industry’s approach to it is severely outdated. It is often actively harmful to the communities we serve, and it feeds unhealthy adrenaline addiction in reporters.”

Despite this caution, Dinman wants the public to have the information understand what occurs in a community after a crime.

“In regards to crime, I think the public should know that anecdotal reports of crime and most crime trend stories say next to nothing about the lived experiences of residents in a community,” Dinman said. “The kinds of stories that do actually teach people about their communities, that put things into context, are difficult, labor-intensive and virtually impossible without robust community support of local journalism.”