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Wash. deputies to get $10K retention bonus, staving off unprecedented exodus

Some deputies have moved to other departments because of pay, benefits and lateral incentives

Josephine Peterson
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — In an effort to stave off Pierce County Sheriff Departments’ historical mass exodus, the county has allocated $4 million in bonuses.

Pierce County received $175 million in federal aid to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Tuesday, the County Council passed budget adjustments to allocate federal dollars, including a $10,000 retention bonus for each sheriff’s deputy. Recruitment incentives and salary increases are also included in the $4 million line item.

Pierce County Sheriff Department’s Sgt. Darren Moss said the $10,000 retention bonus would show deputies are appreciated and give them reasons to to stay.

“We have fallen so far behind that some people were really looking over the fence to other departments and seeing them getting paid more,” Moss said. “Hopefully, it will help us retain deputies as much as we can.”

The Sheriff’s Department is short 50 funded deputy positions, and the sheriff expects more than 50 departures this year. The department is budgeted for about 344 deputy positions.

Council member Hans Zeiger (R- Puyallup) said the bonuses were necessary.

“This contains what I believe is needed to fund a contract with sheriff deputies, and that is of such importance in the time we are living. We are seeing crime rise in virtually every category,” he said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Chair Derek Young (D- Gig Harbor) agreed, saying that there are ramifications to a diminished police force.

“Currently staffing is well below that which impacts response time, and the amount of stress on our deputies,” he said.

The sheriff’s department pay rate is lower than other law enforcement agencies in Pierce County and Puget Sound, council members and Moss said.

“To compete in this market, we need to step up substantially,” Young said.

The county’s starting pay for deputies is $34.25 an hour. The Tacoma Police Department starts officers at $33.51 an hour. Moss said incentives like education, shift differentials and higher pay increases per promotions are better in Tacoma.

Some deputies have moved to other departments because of pay, benefits and lateral incentives.

“With incentives, shift differential and matching deferred comp, other agencies pay well over what deputies make. We are the fourth lowest paid in the county compared to the other police agencies,” Moss said.

County Executive Bruce Dammeier made the budget request three months ago, saying the bonus would attract new applicants and retain deputies on the force.

So far, other financial incentives have not been enough of a draw to cover the sheriff’s staffing deficiency. The department currently offers law enforcement officers across Washington a bonus of $15,000 to sign on in Pierce County, Sheriff Ed Troyer said in February. Last year marked a five-year high in departures when 36 deputies left the department.

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Departments often call Penn Highlands Police Academy, asking if any soon-to-be graduates are ready for jobs and offering pay incentives
The move will result in an estimated decrease of officers to about 29,000 by 2025
State law requires that the raises be calculated based on the base salaries, retirement benefits and add-ons of five other departments
The move would give the department chief more discretion to fill, change or leave vacant officer shifts and respond to department needs