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Pierce County Sheriff: Safety in Seattle requires ‘common sense’ solutions

Police look over the scene of a shooting at 3rd Avenue and Pine Street on January 22, 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

There have been plenty of opinions on how to solve Seattle’s problems with violent crime in the days since yet another a fatal shooting downtown. For Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, though, real solutions are found by taking a more holistic approach.

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“Life is about balance and nuance, not 180 degrees one way or the other,” Pastor told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “That’s not some kind of mystic knowledge — that’s common sense.”

For Pastor, dealing with crime in Pierce County has always been about accomplishing a lot with a little. The department is responsible for the safety and well-being of roughly 440,000 people, while employing just 359 officers.

Despite that, Pierce County has managed to tackle issues with drugs, mental health, and property crime in a way that Pastor designed to punish offenders, while still using common sense, compassionate solutions. That includes a system that provides drug offenders treatment while they’re behind bars, including giving them substitute drugs like Suboxone to help get them clean.

“It recognizes that there are people who are going to violate the law, and then hold them criminally responsible,” Pastor said. “And if those people are violating the law because of mental illness or over drug addiction, let’s find a way to get them out of it. Otherwise, we’re complicit in their slow motion suicide.”

As for places like Seattle — and at times, Pierce County — Pastor points to a reluctance to provide enough money to keep effective programs running efficiently in the long term.

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“We have been civilly irresponsible in underfunding things,” he noted. “We underfund law enforcement. We underfund treatment, we underfund mental health, and then surprise, we wonder why we have concerns in our community.”

“The fact is, you can pay one way or pay another,” he continued. “You can provide treatment or you can dodge bullets in downtown Seattle.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.