Politics & Government

Sheriff asks County Council for more deputies on the street and in the jail

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor is asking county leaders for 32 more staff for next year, including 18 patrol deputies and 14 correctional officers to reduce jail overtime.

Pastor told the County Council on Wednesday that he requested 13 patrol deputies to “rebuild our depleted patrol force.” Five others would form a major property crimes reduction team to cut burglaries by 25 percent in the next two years.

At least 2,000 burglaries go uninvestigated in the unincorporated county each year, Pastor told the council.

“I want you to know that my requests this year are not a question of refilling our bucket,” Pastor said. “But rather my requests are aiming at fulfilling our obligation to keep Pierce County a safe place to live and work.”

Pastor also has asked for 14 more staff at the county jail, in keeping with the recommendation of the jail operations study in September.

County Executive Pat McCarthy added eight corrections deputies in her budget to cut back on jail overtime. But she also proposed cutting the jail’s overtime budget by $742,000.

Pastor told the council his department can’t absorb that level of overtime cut with only eight additional corrections deputies.

Sheriff’s Department Chief Brent Bomkamp said Wednesday the reduction in overtime from hiring corrections deputies is overstated in McCarthy’s budget. Because the eight added jail deputies wouldn’t be hired until July 1, the overtime savings would only amount to $330,000, he said.

The council must sort out conflicting budget details and requests soon. The elected leaders are scheduled to finalize next year’s budget on Wednesday and formally adopt it Nov. 17.

Council Chairman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said he supports the sheriff’s entire request in principle, but the county doesn’t have the money to add 32 positions.

“I think that is where he would like to get to,” Roach said in an interview. But in terms of “budget realities,” he said, “we’re nowhere near that.”

About 80 percent of McCarthy’s proposed core budget of $281.4 million already would be dedicated to public safety and criminal justice services.

That leaves only 20 percent of the budget to find more money for the Sheriff’s Department.

“It pretty much makes it impossible, unless you absolutely want to do away with (other) departments,” Roach said.

The council chairman said he supports funding the addition of eight corrections deputies as outlined in McCarthy’s budget.

Meanhwile, the Sheriff’s Department is hiring and recruiting for open positions. It has seven openings for law enforcement deputies and even more for the jail.

The department plans to hire 16 corrections deputies — including the eight in McCarthy’s budget — in the next six to eight months, Capt. Jerry Lawrence said. Five of the vacancies are due to corrections deputies who will retire in December.

Lawrence reported it takes 32 weeks to hire and train a corrections deputy. The hiring process — including interviews, polygraph testing and a background investigation — lasts about 16 weeks. Training takes another 16 weeks before a jail deputy can start work.

Overtime costs led to a budget crisis in 2013 when the jail’s deficit hit $5 million, resulting in the layoff of 16 corrections deputies.

Bomkamp said the jail expects its deficit for this year to reach $1.9 million. As of Nov. 3, the jail had overspent its overtime budget for the year by $739,391, he said.

After Wednesday’s budget hearing, Pastor said that staffing additions will need to be incremental because of funding, despite the jail study advising 14 more positions.

“I’m saying, ‘OK, if you can’t afford 14, we’ll take eight and do the best we can,’ ” Pastor said.

McCarthy said in an interview that her budget would add eight deputies, enough to staff an entire jail pod to increase inmate capacity while reducing overtime.

She said it’s realistic for the corrections bureau to reduce its overtime by $742,000 with the addition of eight jail deputies.

Regarding the law enforcement side of the Sheriff’s Department, McCarthy said crime statistics don’t validate the need for increasing the number of patrol deputies at this time.

“The good news is that crime is down,” McCarthy said. “The sheriff can celebrate that.”