After 14 years of policing for Pierce Transit, the Sheriff’s Department is choosing not to renew its contract because of a severe staffing shortage.
Sheriff Ed Troyer and chief operating officer Mike Griffus met this week to discuss letting the annual $3.5 million contract lapse at the end of the year.
Although there was recently a public rift between the agencies over Troyer’s refusal to remove “thin blue line” stickers from three patrol vehicles, officials said that disagreement had nothing to do with ending the contract.
The Sheriff’s Department currently has 27 vacancies and expects to have more by the end of June when four people retire and eight are promoted. By December, another nine employees are set to retire. Another 13 are expected to retire next year.
That has made it difficult to fill the 72 patrol positions necessary to cover unincorporated areas of the county. Right now, only 58 of those slots are filled.
Then there are nine deputies hoping to leave the Sheriff’s Department. Five are testing for fire agencies and four are actively searching for law enforcement jobs outside of the state, according to a department memo.
“Due to these challenges, we are left with the reality that we must prioritize providing service to the residents of unincorporated Pierce County by reducing staffing in special units, teams and contracts — including Transit Police,” Troyer wrote in an email to Griffus.
Rebecca Japhet, Pierce Transit’s spokeswoman, said the agency understands staffing shortages and is sorry the contract won’t be renewed.
“Pierce Transit has appreciated the strong partnership we have had with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office over the years, which has helped keep our customers and community safe,” she said.
Pierce Transit officials have not decided how to provide public safety throughout its system once the contract ends Dec. 31. Japhet said they will present options to the Board of Commissioners after researching other possibilities.
The Sheriff’s Department has provided law enforcement services to Pierce Transit since 2007, offering 19 employees and 21 patrol vehicles. The contract stipulates that the sworn employees must be dedicated to Pierce Transit and cannot work elsewhere except in emergencies.
Troyer said the department is committed to a smooth transition.
“We’re sad to see this partnership end, but it’s a sign of the times,” he said. “We have to look at our main mission and get it done, which we will.”