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Q&A: Paul Pastor, Sheriff of Pierce County

By Marguerite Cleveland

Paul Pastor, Pierce County’s longest serving sheriff, is retiring in 2020. This popular public servant will be missed.

Q. You are Pierce County’s longest serving sheriff and ran unopposed in two elections. To what do you attribute your support from Pierce County voters?

A. As to longevity and voter support, I would attribute that to two things. The first is the people who serve in this agency. I have worked for five different agencies in my career and I have never worked with better people. They have tremendous “smarts and heart.” They step up and solve major problems be they gang problems or the “methademic” or increases in property crimes even when they have limited resources. And they are spread thin. We police about 445,000 people in an 1,800-square-mile county with only 351 law enforcement officers.

And we run the second largest local jail in the state. It works because the quality of our people make it work. The second reason? We use plain English to tell people what we are doing. We pride ourselves on straight talk and timely information regarding major incidents. We get information out, and we don’t use a bunch of puffed-up bureaucratic language in the process.

Q. I am guessing if anybody checked that you are the most educated sheriff in Pierce County history with two master's degrees and a doctorate from Yale University. What led you to pursue such advanced education?

A. It’s true. I am an over-educated cop. I don’t advertise it that much because I find that I get really tired of some people with Ph.Ds. who act like that makes them better than other people. I know that there is intelligence and education and wisdom and commonsense, and they don’t always occur together. I went to grad school at Yale because I thought that I wanted to be a college professor. I did research on police in New Haven and Boston. And I met people who really cared about what they did. I later worked beside people in Seattle PD. It dawned on me that police work was both intellectually engaging and morally engaging.

Q. With so much negativity in the media toward many police departments, what would you say to young people who are considering pursuing a career in law enforcement but may be concerned about community support?

A. Community support is very important. Public safety is not a spectator sport. We cannot be successful in our mission without public support. We have a tremendous responsibility to the public when we put on a badge. But the public also has a tremendous responsibility to us and to others in the community.

It boils down to what it means to be a citizen. Citizenship is not just about rights and entitlements and privileges. It is also about duty and obligation and responsibility to the common enterprise. Public safety is built on public trust. Public trust is a two-way street. The greater burden falls on police. But communities need to meet their responsibilities as well. When I was at Yale, Sgt. David Durk of NYPD (a Dartmouth grad) toured the Ivy League colleges looking for recruits. He told us that if we really wanted to “save the world” (remember, this was still the 1970s) we should get a haircut and pin on a badge. He said if we did that, we could “save the world” one call, one individual, one family, one community at a time.

What do I tell potential new recruits? I tell them that there are very few jobs where one gets to make a real moral difference in the community. I tell them that not everyone can do this job. I tell them that if they step up and do it well, they will be worthy of tremendous respect. I tell them that if they do it right, and do it ethically, it will be the hardest job they ever loved.

Q. After a long career, it looks like retirement is in your future. What are your plans?

A. Well, I know I won’t fully retire. There are lots of things I want to do, including having more involvement in criminal justice and political issues at the state and federal levels. I have spent 42 years in some aspect of law enforcement. I’d like to do some traveling with family. And also get to see what a new generation of law enforcement leaders will do.

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