Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Inside the Squad Car: A Day with the Walla Walla Police Department

Outside a Super8 Motel sign reading “2024 STAY SAFE,” Walla Walla Police Department (WWPD) Officer Kevin Toon dealt with a domestic disturbance. The call said someone had been hit, and Officer Toon was trying to figure out who, if anyone, might be spending the night in jail. 

Most Whitman students, it can be safely assumed, do not have frequent interactions with Walla Walla Police. Sometimes officers will show up to parties that violate noise ordinances, or catch the unluckiest of us speeding, but overall it’s unusual to see a police presence on campus. As such, it can be hard to understand what our local police force actually does. Recently, I accompanied Sergeant Nat Small and Officer Toon with the Walla Walla PD for a day and night shift ride-along in order to see first-hand what our local police do on a daily basis. The situations the police responded to were complex, often involving drug/alcohol abuse and mental health issues. Not all of them had an easy outcome. 

Sergeant Small, who has been with the department for six and a half years, showed me around Walla Walla – pointing out hotspots of drug and gang activity along the way. Small was born and raised in Walla Walla, and takes pride in being a life-long member of the community he now serves. 

Small made two traffic stops that afternoon, one resulting in a warning, the other leading to a warrant arrest, with Small placing the subject in pink handcuffs. 

For Small, a large part of being a police officer is knowing the law and your community. 

“It’s important to treat people with respect,” Small said. 

Small isn’t alone in thinking this way: it’s part of the culture at WWPD. Nailed above the entrance to their squad car bay is a sign that reads, simply, “return with honor.” 

Officers’ response at 3:10pm to an agitated, intoxicated individual with mental health issues proved a good example of what this sign means. Though the person was threatening to fight officers, the interaction ultimately ended with a handshake and an escort to the emergency room. 

“People are complex,” Small said, adding that they “have challenges in life to navigate.” 

“I like to be there for them and provide guidance,” Small said.

Small’s guidance doesn’t end there. When asked what the most important thing for Whitman kids to know was, his response was simple: “Whitman kids should lock their doors!” 

Per Small’s estimates, Whitman students are less likely to commit a crime than they are to be victims of one. In his experience, a number of Whitman students sometimes fail to do simple things to deter crime such as lock their doors and secure their bikes.  

In addition, according to Small, cameras, such as the Ring camera security system, are a great way to deter crime and protect victims. 

Small’s passion for deterring crime and protecting victims extends to his work as the founder and president of the Walla Walla Police Foundation. The Foundation accepts donations from the community in order to help victims in numerous ways, including paying for addiction treatment. 

Officer Toon, a Walla Walla native who has been with the department for seven years, is quick to admit that police officers function like band-aids over sometimes gaping wounds. 

Outside of the Super8, dealing with the complicated domestic disturbance, Toon explained that both individuals were intoxicated. This is a common call officers deal with, moreso on the weekends and in the evenings, according to Toon, who majored in criminal justice before returning to Walla Walla to serve on the force.

“We’re temporary fixers,” said Toon, “I’m gonna find a temporary solution [but] unfortunately it’s probably gonna depend on you giving up alcohol.” 

Even still, for Toon, “there’s definitely some rewarding stuff.”

Toon recounted a case where, with the help of the WWPD, he helped connect a theft suspect to other officers who had drug addiction resources. That individual is now nearly seven months clean. Toon said that outcome was “the most rewarding thing that could possibly happen.”

Through the help of the Foundation, “We’ll install Ring cameras for [victims]” which “helps them feel safer, helps us solve crimes,” Officer Toon said.

Then, of course, there’s the excitement of the job. 

Toon says he likes preparing for all possible situations.

“You prepare for the unexpected. I like having that feeling … it’s all in preparation for what could happen,” Toon said.

During my time with Toon, an individual trespassed at a local hotel, and was found to be in possession of drugs.

As Small puts it, “It’s not boring … no two days are the same.”

Both Small and Toon encouraged Whitman students who are considering a career in law enforcement, and even those who are just curious, to come down to the station for a ride-along. 

“It’s hard for people to grasp what we actually do on a daily basis,” Toon said. 

Outreach efforts like ride-alongs help to demystify police work, and build connections with officers and their communities. For students at Whitman College, a school that offers a course in the state penitentiary, engaging with the WWPD should be encouraged. We talk a lot, and know a lot, about what happens to people once they’re in ‘the system,’ but we talk a lot less about what happens during police interactions in Walla Walla. 

In Small’s words, “show up … see what it’s all about.” 

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  • W

    Whitman studentApr 8, 2024 at 11:08 am

    I’m shocked this article did not mention Nat Small’s Nazi SS tattoo. His tattoo is was the impetus for Whitman cutting ties with WWPD a few years ago, and the Wire published several stories covering the tattoo’s discovery, Whitman’s reaction, and Small’s subsequent “apology.” Such an uncritical retelling of this ridealong with Small without reflecting even briefly on Small’s legacy at WWPD and its effect on the Walla Walla community due to his brandishing of Nazi iconography is journalistic malpractice in my opinion.

  • M

    Marlas PrestonApr 5, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    what was the need for this article to be written? people don’t need another copaganda piece about how cops are just people who have “fun” doing their jo

    • G

      GernApr 7, 2024 at 2:06 pm

      Mitigate the irrational, almost entirely unfounded, juvenile hatred for people who are actually trying to make a difference ?

      Apparently, this is lost on you.