Marine securityPierce County Washington effort to upgrade marine fleet stymied by cost

Published 25 November 2011

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department needs a new patrol boat. The problem? A $730,000 price tag which has county officials balking

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department needs a new patrol boat. The problem? A $730,000 price tag which has county officials balking.

As local governments are forced to cut back during a time of economic uncertainty, expensive line items often stand out on a budget.

In the case of Pierce County Washington, which surrounds the city of Tacoma along Puget Sound, that item is a new $730,000 saltwater marine patrol vessel equipped with an infrared camera and a diesel jet drive capable of reaching forty three miles per hour.

The sheriff’s department’s previous saltwater craft, the Reliance, sank while docked at the port of Tacoma last summer.

With over 235 miles of saltwater shoreline to patrol and only freshwater vessels available to navigate Puget Sound’s rough seas, Sheriff Paul Pastor asked the Pierce County Council to add the vessel to next year’s budget.

“We are asking for the amount of money for a vessel that has the capabilities that we need,” said Lt. Peter Cropp. “This is what it costs. They’re expensive.”
Until mid-September the department had been using its fleet of five freshwater boats to patrol the sound; winter conditions have made using the smaller craft unsafe.

“Right now, we’re not using anything,” Cropp said. “There’s a huge void.”

$525,000 of the total cost would be covered by a Homeland Security grant, which was first given to and then rejected by the Port of Seattle.

County officials were skeptical that one boat could cost so much and on 8 November voted four-to-two against adding the vessel to the budget.

“I can’t get my mind around three-quarters-of-a-million dollars for a marine vessel,” said council member Rick Talbert. “I can’t for the life of me believe it’s this expensive.”

The council did not completely rule out Sheriff Pastor’s request, asking the department to return in December or January with additional information regarding the vessel’s cost and projected responsibilities. 

Until then, according to Lt. Cropp, “There are not enough law enforcement vessels on Puget Sound to handle a major issue at one of the ports.”