Sheriff: Tragic case of deputy's murder shows department grossly understaffed

TACOMA, Wash. -- As new details come out following the deadly shooting of Pierce County sheriff's deputy Daniel McCartney, so have some very important questions.

"What do we need to do to reduce the vulnerability of the people who protect us?" Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said in a media briefing Wednesday. "Because unless we do that, we are all more vulnerable."

The last month or so has been very busy for his sheriff's department.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department says the deadly shooting is a stark reminder of how grossly understaffed the department is, to protect a large community that’s growing all the time.

"There are more national news stories that come out of this county than probably any county its size in the United States," said Pastor. "We are policing 1,800 square miles."

We’ve seen several of those big stories just in the last few weeks:

A shooting near Graham-Kapowsin High School.

The deadly Amtrak derailment in DuPont.

Now, add the shooting death of Deputy McCartney to the list.

It’s harrowing work.

"We don’t have a quiet little rural county. We have a highly urbanized county," said Pastor.

And as the second largest county in Washington grows, so do the 911 calls.

"Manpower is an issue for us, resources--our detectives are spent," said sheriff's detective and spokesman Ed Troyer. "They're working four times as many cases as other agencies. I mean we’ve just kind of hit our limit."

The city of Seattle has almost 300,000 more people than Pierce County, but it has more than five times the sworn officers of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Even the city of Tacoma has a bigger police force—protecting a smaller population.

"Our department could double in size and still, still be behind," said Troyer.

He's right.

According to the county’s 2018 staffing budget, the sheriff’s department has just under 400 full-time employees. That budget shows 202 deputy sheriffs.

So—not counting detectives, sergeants, other high-ranking officials, technicians and support staff—there’s only one full-time deputy for every 2,000 residents.

"That’s pretty sad," said Marcia Thompson, who babysits her three grand kids near where Deputy McCartney was shot.

"I wouldn’t want to be hiding in a closet with somebody breaking into my house and say ‘Ok we're on our way', ... one hour goes by," she said.

She added that the shooting of the deputy just behind her grandchildren's house convinces her that more resources would make a difference.

"So people can feel safer and so a police officer isn’t put on his own and targeted so easily," said Thompson.

"What do they need to do to get more people?" asked Thompson.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department says one way to get more officers on the street is for enough people to ask for it.

They say they need to hire anywhere from 72 to 84 new employees.

If you live in Pierce County and rely on the protection of the sheriff’s department,  you can contact Pierce County Council members and urge them to create a ballot measure to try and boost the department’s funding.