Corrections deputies pressed the Pierce County Council on Tuesday to not lay off 16 jail deputies, warning that cutbacks will put their safety at greater risk.
Deputy John King said reducing staff members for the Pierce County Jail’s compressed population of hostile and mentally ill inmates could lead to a riot.
“Somebody is going to get killed,” King told the council. “And it’s going to be on your backs.”
More than a dozen corrections deputies described the dangers of their jobs and warned against cutbacks during the council’s public comment period.
The council is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on laying off 16 deputies and demoting four corrections officers to help fill a $5 million shortfall in the county jail’s operations.
A council committee Monday supported the cutback, which is part of County Executive Pat McCarthy’s supplemental budget for this year. The jail’s budget would be cut by $3 million; another $2 million would come from reserves and increased sales tax revenue.
Doug Watkins, vice president of the Corrections Deputies Guild, said the county is obligated by law to run the jail.
“Our low-intensity inmates are subsidizing our high-intensity inmates,” he said. “It’s a problem that needs to be fixed without laying off 16 corrections deputies at (the) risk of public safety.”
“We are not a money-making business,” deputy Doug Johnson said. “I urge you to reconsider. This is just not right.”
Lisa Shanahan was one of several deputies who said some people who have been arrested aren’t being jailed.
“Right now, Pierce County is saying to criminals, ‘Go ahead, break the law. You won’t go to jail,’” Shanahan said.
“The citizens of Pierce County deserve a law enforcement department that can enforce laws,” she said. “Having nowhere to house violators fails the citizens of Pierce County.”
Council members responded to the deputies’ comments by saying they would take the concerns to heart but made no promises to forgo approving layoffs next week.
Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald said public safety has always been a priority for the council.
“Bad guys are not being released into the streets in Pierce County,” McDonald said. “That does not happen. It will not happen.”
Deputies chuckled in response. But McDonald said council members are the ones forced to deal with a $5 million shortfall, fewer inmates from Lakewood and Tacoma, and a broken jail model.
“I believe that the people of Pierce County would say, ‘If you have that many less inmates in that jail because they’re going elsewhere, why do we still spend just as much money for so many fewer inmates?’”she said.Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com @TNTstevemaynard