By Paul Pastor
Years ago, in California, I had a part time job that put me in contact with people who raised and trained horses. I remember one old wrangler and horse trainer telling a tall tale about how he was trying to reduce the cost of boarding horses.
He claimed to have hit upon a “sure fire plan” to reduce costs. He would simply teach his horses not to eat: he would feed them less and less until they were finally trained to eat nothing.
In telling this story, he claimed that he had just about got one of his horses fully trained to eat nothing. “And then,” the old wrangler said, “wouldn’t you know it, after a few days, that horse went and died on me!”
Now, I am no horse wrangler. And I certainly do not believe in animal cruelty. But I know that sometimes we push efficiency so hard that we lose track of effectiveness.
The lesson applies in the area of law enforcement staffing in Pierce County.
Over the past few years, during the economic downturn, we have cut law enforcement staffing in the Sheriff’s Department. In 2008, we had a total of 300 Deputies providing police services
to the over 393,000 citizens of Unincorporated Pierce County. In 2014, we had a total of 265 positions serving this population. Does anyone think we can deliver more service with 35 fewer personnel?
Currently, Pierce County spends about $130 per year per resident in unincorporated County for law enforcement services. The cities in the County spend $300 or more per year per citizen. By this measurement – – – cost per year per resident – – – we are highly efficient. We operate at a very low relative cost.
But as a result, too often, we are forced to make difficult choices. We are often forced to choose between devoting resources either to violent crime or to property crime.
We work violent crimes such as rape and murder because it is the right thing to do. But then we lack the resources to investigate many burglaries and identity thefts. There are just not enough resources in Patrol or Detectives to go around.
There were about 3100 burglaries in unincorporated county last year. But we were only able to do follow-up investigation on about 700 of them as we maintained minimum patrol staffing to respond to 911 calls and investigated well over 1000 violent felony crimes.
It’s not because we don’t care. We care big time. Crimes like burglary and identity theft are serious. They are disturbing crimes which upset peoples’ lives and sense of safety. But our resources will not stretch to properly address the level of need in the community.
So we are teaching burglars and thieves that the likelihood of being caught and punished is very low.
And, unfortunately, we are also teaching citizens not to report serious property crime because so many cases cannot be worked.
This year, in my budget requests, I am asking for funding for a small property crimes reduction team. I estimate that we will be able to cut burglaries by 25 % over two years if this team is funded. I am proposing that we choose to spend money on real effectiveness rather than save money on false efficiencies.
I am your Sheriff. I am not a wrangler or a horse trainer. But I remember the old wrangler’s story about too much cost cutting. I know what happens when you starve the horses.
We could settle for what we have. We could continue at a bare bones staffing level and operate at very low cost. But if we do so, we sacrifice the very reason that we are in business in the first place: to keep the community safe; to protect lives and property.