(The Center Square) – For the first time in the agency’s 102-year history, the Washington State Patrol is hiring “lateral entry” law enforcement officers to become troopers.
Like many other police agencies regionally and around the nation, the state patrol is facing challenges in recruiting and retaining personnel. Bonuses up to $20,000 are being offered to attract commissioned officers from outside jurisdictions or those with prior experience to join the WSP.
The patrol announced its new lateral hire policy in late September.
“We need more great people to join our agency who’ll help us continue to meet the needs of Washingtonians that they’ve long enjoyed and expect from us,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said in a press release at the time.
In April, state lawmakers unanimously passed House Bill 1638, which created a “state trooper expedited recruitment incentive program.” A summary of the legislation noted that the WSP’s highway field force includes 683 trooper positions, but 187 of those positions were unfilled as of September 2022.
Currently, the WSP said there are upward of 250 openings for commissioned officers through a combination of vacancies and expected retirements.
Traditionally, prospective new recruits have been required to pass written and physical exams, provide a personal history statement, then apply to become trooper cadets. If they pass polygraph and background checks, an oral board, and psychological and medical exams, they attend WSP’s six-month training academy. Graduation is followed by 10 weeks of coaching with a field training officer.
The lateral entry legislation still requires the background checks and completion of the WSP academy for all troopers, but provides a shorter training period for eligible candidates with prior law enforcement knowledge and experience.
The legislation also calls for the state patrol to “redouble the effort to create a more diverse workforce.”
“When we looked at our staffing levels across the agency, we determined our typical trooper basic classes weren’t enough,” said WSP assistant chief Shannon Bendiksen. “This was one of the ideas that came forward … and we certainly want to try something new to try to supplement our staffing levels in the field.”
The patrol aims to have 40 lateral hires for an inaugural class to start in March, followed by a second class later in 2024. While the duration will depend on each hire’s credentials and experience, the average class is anticipated to include four weeks of classroom time and four weeks of coaching with a senior trooper. Out-of-state hires will also have two weeks of academy training focused on Washington state law.
Annual salaries range from nearly $64,000 for a trooper cadet to over $104,000 for a trooper with five or more years’ experience. In another first for the agency, cadets can now receive up to $10,000 in hiring bonuses. The patrol also provides health insurance, a retirement plan, student loan forgiveness and continuing education pay with 2% and 4% raises for associate and bachelor degrees, respectively.
Trooper cadet applicants must be high school graduates or equivalent, age 19-1/2 or older, with a valid driver’s license and no felony or DUI convictions.
The WSP’s academy is separate from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy which provides mandated training for all city and county entry-level peace officers in the state.
The WSP is Washington’s largest law enforcement organization with about 2,200 employees split between commissioned staff and civilians, operating on a biennial budget of $696 million.
Along with highway patrol duties by troopers, the WSP has nearly two dozen specialty units and divisions including aviation, bomb squad, detective, narcotics, organized and high-tech crime, motorcycle patrol, collision reconstruction, drug recognition, capitol and homeland security, honor guard and training officers.