Pierce County Sheriff Announces Early Retirement

Paul Pastor plans to contribute his expertise on the national level.


Retiring Sheriff Paul Pastor. Photo: Pierce County Sheriff's Department

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor recently announced his plans to retire nearly a year before the end of his term. Although the longest-serving sheriff in county history is stepping down, he is not stepping away from what has driven his career.

“I want to work on things that are dear to my heart in terms of public trust and how we approach the overlap between law enforcement and mental health services,” Pastor told the KP News.

“I’d like to make more of a contribution at a national level. I’ve been doing things with a major sheriff’s association and the National Executive Institute at the FBI. I’d like to spend more time on that,” he said.

“We are in a good spot right now; I have an excellent command staff,” Pastor said. “I think that my leaving now will encourage some who might want to run for sheriff to think about it now. It’s time for people to shake their heads and get started in the process of running for sheriff and declare themselves ready to run, so that the public has time to look at a choice. I don’t have someone I want to tap as successor. I am not anointing anybody.”

"I saw that police in the field could make a moral difference." He added that experience with managing a large organization is important. The department includes more than 700, including the county jail staff.

Pastor said his path to law enforcement was accidental. “I planned to be a college professor. I’m an over-educated cop,” he said.

After earning a degree in government and sociology from Pomona College, he went to Yale where he received two master’s degrees, in legal and medical sociology, and then a Ph.D. in sociology. His graduate work focused on the relationships between police departments and other agencies and how they mobilize medical and mental health treatment. The fieldwork took him into the streets with police in New Haven, Boston and Seattle. “That is where I saw that police in the field could make a moral difference,” he said.

While at Yale, New York Police Department Sergeant David Durk came to speak. Pastor was impressed. “The sergeant said, ‘Look, if you want to change the world, get a haircut and put on a badge and you can change the world one individual, one family, one neighborhood at a time.’ I found out he was right. But he didn’t tell me how hard it was going to be.”

"Character counts in law enforcement."

Pastor initially worked in academic research and then went to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, managing curriculum and testing programs. The Pierce County Sheriff approached him to take a job as an inspector, saying, “You can teach it, let’s see if you can do it.” He then served as the police chief for Everett and undersheriff for Clark County before returning to Pierce County. Pastor was appointed sheriff in 2000 and was elected in 2008 to the first of three terms when it became an elected position.

“When people think about policing, they think about car chases and gun fights,” he said. “What really happens is less exciting and more complex. People with badges on ... make choices often with very little information and very little time. It is important that they make those decisions in an ethical and moral matter. Character counts in law enforcement.”

Pastor said he is proud of his department’s work with the community to overcome gang problems and to defeat what he referred to as the “methedemic.” He also cited a decrease in property crime, thanks in part to a program to concentrate on high rate offenders, the co-responder program to have mental health workers going out with department staff, and the work done to integrate fire and police departments in the South Sound 911 system.

“Our people have tremendous smarts and heart, tremendous character,” he said.  The main challenge ahead is how to continue the work the department does with a lean staffing model.

“We police about 445,000 people over 1,800 square miles and we do it with about 350 people. And we do it not in a sleepy cow county, we do it in a county with real, big-time, prime-time crime. We do a whole lot of work with very few people and we do the same thing with the jail.”

Pastor acknowledged that the Key Peninsula is underserved. 

“If it were a town, it would be the size of Lakewood,” he said. He hopes to reconfigure how the outlying detachments are organized, probably with a lieutenant whose focus would be the KP.

As the county population grows, he said, “We need to grow both physical and civic infrastructure. We can’t just get more efficient. It is a combination of staffing, technology, and the way we interact with other institutions. It will require resources.”