By Matt Nagle
Mention the name Paul Pastor and the first thing you’re likely to hear is what a great guy he is personally and professionally. And for good reason. For nearly 20 years, this Pierce County Sheriff has been a trusted leader of note in some of the most difficult situations to face the people who call Pierce County home.
People look up to Paul Pastor. People turn to him in times of crisis. People feel comforted knowing he’s on the job.
He will certainly be missed when he’s gone, as Pastor plans to be officially retired this spring.
“We will miss Paul as our Pierce County Sheriff. He represented the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Pierce County government in general with great devotion and pride,” said Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell. “He has led a great department for many years and he and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department have been a great partner to all Pierce County law enforcement agencies. We wish him well in his retirement.”
Pierce County Council Chair Doug Richardson echoed Ramsdell’s thoughts. “The residents of Pierce County owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Sheriff Pastor for his leadership of the department. He has served the county with courage and compassion, helping the entire community to navigate some terrible tragedies. He leaves a remarkable legacy as he departs the department – leaving it better off than when he was first sworn in. He will be missed.”
There is just something about having Pastor on the job that has brought a sense of comfort and stability in trying times. The loss of his fellow officers is a clear case in point: Deputy Cooper Dyson killed in a crash on Dec. 21, 2019 while responding to a domestic violence call. Deputy Daniel McCartney shot and killed on Jan. 7, 2018 while responding to a home invasion. Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards shot and killed on Nov. 29, 2009 while enjoying coffee at a Lakewood café.
When things couldn’t seem to get any worse, Pastor has been there for all of us – the best man that Pierce County could ever hope to have in that position. His dedication is admirable. Just this week he decided to postpone his retirement for a while in order to stay on duty as the county deals with the coronavirus.
Of course, a man of great humility like Paul doesn’t speak of himself when remembering these fallen heroes. He speaks of their bravery and selflessness.
“Dan McCartney gets the call, parks out in front, hears shots and knows that there are two kids in the house. He can either wait for the other officer and say, ‘You’re on your own for a while, people,’ or go in,” Pastor said. “He went in because his conscience told him that he needed to – there were kids in there.”
When asked how he copes with the unique pressures and stresses of his profession, Paul gives a simple answer: “I asked for this job.” Just like every other law enforcement officer, Paul raised his hand and said, “Send me in, coach,” as he put it. “There are terrible weeks – there are awful weeks. I’m talking about the grind your teeth kind of weeks. But the fact is that we volunteer. We volunteer for the victories and we volunteer for the problems. We don’t have to do this – we get to do this.”
BOOK SMART, STREET SMART
It wasn’t always Paul’s intention to join law enforcement, as he explored academia and thoughts of being a college professor. Coming from a Navy family, a sense of duty and service were instilled in him from a young age.
Paul was born at Naval Medical Hospital Portsmouth in Virginia. “When you think about it, it’s a great place to get a navel,” he joked, showing his great sense of humor that no doubt serves him well in his line of work. His father served in the Navy, which meant moving around the country a lot with his mom and brother.
He completed high school in California and earned a government and sociology degree from Pamona College. He didn’t stop with higher education there, though. At Yale University, he earned a master of philosophy in legal sociology, a master of arts in medical sociology and a PhD in sociology.
“Another overeducated cop,” Paul calls himself. “But don’t spread that around because it hurts my street cred. Nobody on a corner says, ‘Don’t mess with that guy because he’s got two masters and a doctorate. He’ll bore you to death!’”
Paul arrived in Washington state in 1975 and worked with the Seattle Police Department and the federal Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, a precursor to the DEA.
He received further training in New Haven and Boston, “then I straddled academics and sort of cop stuff because I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go teach a class, but it was more fun playing in the street. It was intellectually and morally engaging, and you got to see the results fairly quickly.”
In the early 1980’s, he was in charge of state staff at the Washington Criminal Justice Training Academy where he also managed the Loaned Executive Program and Washington Crime Watch. It was around this time that Paul received an offer from then-Pierce County Sheriff Ray Fjetland
“He said, ‘You’ve been talking about law enforcement, Pastor, and you’ve played in the street, so let’s see if you can do law enforcement management.’ He had an opening for an inspector in internal affairs investigations so Ray brought me in, which I greatly appreciate,” Paul said. From 1986 to 1991, he served at the rank of inspector for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
From there, Paul served as chief of police for the City of Everett from 1991-1992, undersheriff for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office from 1993-1996 and chief of the Pierce County Department’s Operations Bureau in charge of all law enforcement operations from 1996-2000.
He has lectured in several programs at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA and has received two special commendations from the director of the FBI for his contributions to law enforcement management training. He is a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and is a senior fellow in the American Leadership Forum.
In 2001, Paul was appointed Pierce County Sheriff and was elected in 2008. In his last two terms, he ran unopposed, making him the longest-serving sheriff in Pierce County history.
THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH
With Paul’s long track record in Pierce County law enforcement, he gets very passionate when speaking about one topic in particular: what police owe the citizenry and what the citizenry owe police.
He used Costco as a metaphor to explain the true meaning of citizenship. “We are all Costco members for the same reason: We can get lots of goodies at a fairly low price. We mistake citizenship for a Costco membership. We think that citizenship ought to give us a whole lot of goodies at the lowest possible price and to hell with the other citizens. That’s not the way citizenship works. For citizenship, it’s not about all the goodies I can get – it’s about what I owe in order to sustain those rights and privileges.”
He then quoted Thomas Paine: “‘Those who would expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men (and women), undergo the fatigue of supporting it.’ There’s no free lunch.”
“What I need to say to the community, and what law enforcement needs to say, is, ‘How much public safety do you want? You get to decide.’ I need to run my shop in as ethical a way as possible and give you every bit of effort I can. I need my people, even when they’re feeling like no one gives a damn, to step up and be there for you. When I put on a badge and raise my right hand, I owe you one hell of a lot. What we never talk about is what you owe back. You have these expectations, but what are you willing to do to get those expectations met?”
Does this fold into things like staffing? Definitely. “Sometimes our people take more chances than they should getting to a call because there’s nobody else who’s going to answer it,” Paul said. “If we don’t staff up right, we ask our people to do that more often than we should.”
There is a cost to cost savings when it comes to policing, and the stakes are sky-high.
“Don’t tell me that the most important thing that we have to do is public safety and then around budget time gaze off and go la la la… Make up your mind. Choose. Stand up and perform as a citizen and expect me to perform as a law enforcement officer.
One of the things I don’t think we get through enough is that public safety isn’t just our job. As a citizen, what did you volunteer for? If you volunteered to sit passively and criticize, that’s not a citizen – that’s a consumer, a Costco member. There is something wrong with acting like that if you’re a citizen.”
THE TIME IS RIGHT
Paul’s decision to retire from county law enforcement comes at a time when term limits don’t allow him to run again, but more importantly it comes at a time that just feels right to him, as he sets his sights on staying involved in law enforcement at the national level.
Is he prepared for all the goodbye hugs and well wishes on his last day? Probably not, but a sense of fun will definitely see him through. “What I’m prepared for is for people to gaze heavenward and quote Dr. King: ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty we’re free at last,’” he laughed.
To put it simply, Paul said that “it feels right” to retire at this time. “I’m not going away mad or disgusted. I’m not feeling like I’m running away from something or that I can’t do this anymore. Part of my leaving is that I need to provoke people to step up because the agency, in my opinion, needs to have a sheriff next time that’s better than this sheriff and the sheriff after that should be better than that one. My hope for the next sheriff is that he or she takes this further and higher. Everybody should be trying to put their successor in a position to do a little better.”
‘He’s a giant of a person…’ Local leaders say thank-you to Paul Pastor
“If you know Paul Pastor, you know his commitment to Pierce County is deep and sincere. He is the type of leader who personally takes responsibility for decisions that are not popular, but is the first to share credit with others for successes. Sheriff Pastor is a thoughtful and committed public servant who sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve. He has been very present for his department in tough times. When his people hurt, he hurt. We’ve been fortunate to have Paul Pastor in Pierce County. He served the people and his department honorably and well.” – Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett
“Paul has long been one of my favorite law enforcement leaders to work with. His approach to our profession and people is both futuristic and thoughtful. He’s a giant of a person, who just so happens to be a premier law enforcement leader. We’ll surely miss him at the helm of Pierce County Law Enforcement.” – Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste
“Paul has an amazing way of allowing his faith-based values and principles to shape and frame his leadership, not in an overbearing or judgmental way, but in a way that uplifts and inspires everyone he interacts with. He’s not just a good sheriff. He’s a good man first, and that’s what makes him a good sheriff.” – Tacoma Fire Chief Toryono “Tory” Green
“If I had two words to describe Paul Pastor, they would be ‘genuine’ and ‘community’ – ‘genuine’ because he’s such an authentic person and ‘community’ because he really does care about the entire community and considers himself a part of the community – not by what he says, but by what he does. When you think of the term ‘community policing,’ think of Sheriff Pastor. Whoever steps into that position will have to be their own sheriff, but they are going to have to work to continue what he started. I will miss him.” – Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards
“I have worked alongside Sheriff Pastor for the past 20 years and he has been a mentor, confidant and role model to me and many others. He will be truly missed.”
Sheriff’s Dept. spokesman Ed Troyer