Retiring Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber says goodbye to department, not to Walla Walla | Local governments

When Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber moved to the Valley 10 years ago from Vancouver, Washington, it was for a job.

Already 27 years into his career at the time, he figured he’d come here to close out his long tenure in law enforcement. Now that he’s set to retire at the end of the month, he’s realized something else: Walla Walla has become home.


“This is home,” Bieber said. “People ask me, ‘Are you going to move back to Vancouver?’ Not a chance … The spring, summer and fall here are absolutely gorgeous.”

He did say he and his wife might go somewhere warmer during Walla Walla’s cold season.

“We will probably do two months in the winter in Arizona somewhere,” he said.

However, moving away is not on the table.

“No, this is home,” he said. “We’re halfway between our grandkids here.”

Bieber spent most of his pre-Walla Walla life in Vancouver. He was born in Missoula, Montana. His father moved the family to Pullman after Bieber finished second grade.

Two years later, the family moved to Vancouver, and Bieber lived there for a long time afterwards. He didn’t even leave for college, having attended Clark Community College and Portland State University.

When he began his career in law enforcement, he did it right where he grew up.

Careers in Vancouver

Bieber started in law enforcement at the Vancouver Police Department on April Fools’ Day 1985.

“The other two guys that got hired that day and I, we always laugh that at some point they were going to tell us that it was all an April Fools’ joke,” Bieber said.

He worked for that department for the next 27 years. During his time there, he saw a lot of turnover high up in the department, which caused a lot of turmoil, he said.

“We had 10 chiefs in 27 years,” Bieber said. “We always seemed to be going in a different direction.”

Of those 10 chiefs, Bieber said none of them were internal hires. They all came from outside the department, further adding dysfunction.

“A new chief would always want to come in and put their thumb print on the organization,” Bieber said. “They all had a blueprint for how they said they were going to change us and make us better.”

Still, Bieber said, there were some positives in his time in Vancouver.

“I met some great friends there,” he said. “I have fond memories of my time there, but I also understand the crazy stuff that went on.”

Another positive, he said, was the experience he gained working in several positions for the department throughout the years.

“I worked pretty much in every position in the department,” Bieber said. “I got a lot of great training and a lot of great experience at the Vancouver police.”

Moving to Walla Walla

Eventually, he started looking for a chief of police job. In 2011, he applied for — and was later a finalist for — the chief job with the Richland Police Department, but he wasn’t hired. A year later, the Walla Walla police chief job opened up.

The position in Walla Walla opened at the same time as the chief job in Pasco became available. He made cold calls to both existing chiefs before choosing where to apply.

“I didn’t get a really warm and fuzzy feeling in Pasco,” he said. “I did get a warm and fuzzy feeling here … It was a no-brainer for me.”

Ten years later, he has one regret.

“I wish I would have started my career here and ended my career here,” he said. “I wish my entire 37 years had been with the Walla Walla police.”

Making a difference in Walla Walla

Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa said changes Bieber brought to the department had an immediate impact on crime in the city.

“There was one thing, what it was, was having dedicated officers focus only on outstanding warrants,” Shawa said.

Shawa said he had some doubts in the program at the time.

“I said, ‘OK, how is that going to drive the crime rate down?'” he said.

But it worked. Picking up people with active warrants prevented repeat offenses and made an impact right away, Shawa said.

When Bieber is asked what he’s most proud of in his time at the department though, he doesn’t talk about crime rates or statistics. He talks about people.

He said he’s proud of his staff, both the people who were here before him and those he hired.

People who work for him said he has always made staff development his top priority.

WWPD Captain Chris Buttice, who will take over as the department’s chief on May 1, said he owes a lot of his own development to Bieber.

Scott Bieber Retires

Chris Buttice, who will become Walla Walla police chief in May, left, and current Chief Scott Bieber at the police station, Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Buttice was a sergeant when Bieber was hired.

“I was grateful for him being able to see things in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Buttice said. “No way no how, when I was a sergeant, did I ever think I was going to be chief.”

He said the encouragement and coaching that Bieber gave him felt great, but he didn’t buy into it at first.

“I remember him having a conversation with me and the superintendent at the prison here, and they were saying that someday I could be doing this too,” Buttice said. “At that moment, I thought, ‘Not really, this isn’t me.’ I didn’t think I had what it takes.”

Diversity issues

Bieber does have one staffing related regret. He wishes he could have made the department more diverse. Specifically, he wishes the department had more Hispanic and female officers.

He said having more Hispanic officers could encourage Walla Walla’s Hispanic community to feel more comfortable calling the police when they are the victims of crime.

“I think, especially if you’re undocumented, there’s a greater level of trust with an officer that looks like you and speaks the same language as you,” he said.

“I don’t care what your immigration status is. That’s the federal government, not me. I do not care. But if you become the victim of a crime, I want to know about it, and I want to help you out. And if you’re hesitant to come tell us about it because all you see is white males here, that’s an issue.”

He said the department needs more female officers for a similar reason, adding that WWPD currently has only two female officers.

“If you are a rape victim, and you are hesitant to come in because there are only two female officers, that’s an issue,” he said.

Bieber said the department rarely gets minority and female candidates. He also said the screening process eliminates about 80% of all applicants. So even when minority candidates do apply, they have to make it through that process.

Bieber said more effort has been made to recruit such candidates and that soon the department will start recruiting directly at Walla Walla High School and Walla Walla Community College.

Working with candidates early, he said, should help them through the process.

Kudos and regrets

Both Shawa and Buttice said a high point in Bieber’s time with the WWPD was the department earning accreditation from the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs in 2019.

Buttice said that was something Bieber had wanted to achieve since he arrived at the department. He said going for accreditation brought out the best in the officers of the department

“Getting us accredited ensured we did all the best practices,” Buttice said. “He really pushed us to be better and ensured we were doing everything we could do to be the best we could be.”

There have been challenges as well. Bieber said the last couple of years have been difficult. When asked about any regrets, he said he wishes he had handled a situation involving an officer’s tattoo differently.

The department came under fire in 2020 when an image of Officer Nat Small’s double-lightning bolt “SS” tattoo was posted on Facebook.

The symbol is mainly known for its historic use by Nazi Germany. However, Small has maintained that Nazism had nothing to do with his tattoo. He said he got it in honor of a fallen comrade in the military.

The symbol had been unofficially adopted at the time by some Scout Snipers in the US Marine Corps.

The ensuing controversy led to the department deleting its social media accounts and Whitman College cutting ties with the department.

The situation annoyed Bieber, who said critics of the tattoo didn’t understand its meaning. Now, Bieber wishes he had responded differently.

“If I were to do the tattoo controversy over again, I would have channeled a little more emotional intelligence over that,” Bieber said. “With that said, I wish other people would have channeled a little more emotional intelligence over that too.”

Bieber said because he knew Small, and knew his character, he knew that in Small’s heart the symbol had nothing to do with Nazism.

However, rather than get angry that people didn’t accept that, he wishes he had tried to have more conversations with people.

Bieber said he doesn’t think the Scout Snipers should have ever used the image to begin with.

“I understand the SS symbol as it applies to Nazi Germany,” Bieber said. “Do I think (the Scout Snipers) should have taken that as their symbol? Absolutely not. Come on guys, figure it out.”

But, he said, Small didn’t choose the image. Small’s entire unit got a tattoo that the Scout Snipers used to honor their fallen comrade and friend, the chief said. And the meaning of the symbol for those solders had nothing to do with the meaning it had in Nazi Germany.

“There is not a single word or symbol in this world that only has a single meaning,” Bieber said. “People were inferring what they thought it meant without even knowing the guy.”

Indeed, the lightning bolt “SS” symbol has had other uses, including in the logo of the heavy metal band KISS.

“Again, I wish I would have had a little more emotional intelligence because my reaction was defensive, you know, ‘screw you,'” he said.

Specifically, he said Whitman College President Kathy Murray’s reaction to end the college’s relationship with the department disappointed him, but he wishes he had reached out to her instead of reacting with anger.

“Instead of making phone calls and emails and that stuff, I should have had a conversation, face to face, and said ‘Kathy, you know me,'” he said. “’You have been to my house for dinner … Let’s sit down and talk about this symbol.’”

The tattoo incident is not the only reason the last few years have been hard for Bieber. The COVID-19 pandemic had its challenges.

And public attention on national incidents, such as the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, put departments everywhere under a microscope.

He said people got mad but weren’t in Minnesota where they could voice their anger to the department there. And so, they got mad at their local police instead.

However, Bieber did say he understood people’s anger at Floyd’s death.

“I’m angry too,” he said. “And I got pissed when I watched the trial and I saw the chief of police testing, saying that’s not how Chauvin was trained, blah blah blah … OK, chief, but where’s your accountability for creating a culture that allowed this to happen? That allowed someone like this to do this without someone, somewhere along the line saying, ‘No.’”

He also said he was upset in the Minneapolis police officers who stood by and watched the murder, adding that his officers would be expected to do something.

“My expectation is that they would step in and stop it,” he said.

After all the highs and the lows, Bieber said he’s ready to say goodbye to law enforcement and enjoy his family. And he will be doing that here in Walla Walla, his adopted home.