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Dec. 9, 2021

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Other Papers Say: Fix diversity issues in Washington State Patrol

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The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:

The Washington State Patrol needs to diversify its ranks. Adding consultants, brand managers and recruiters isn’t enough. The agency should take action on fixing a step in its hiring process repeatedly singled out as a problem: the psychological exam for trooper candidates.

Specifically, WSP needs to follow recommendations and add more psychologists to administer and interpret its employment tests.

As Seattle Times reporter Mike Reicher and Austin Jenkins of Northwest News Network detailed, the WSP relies on a single longtime psychologist to screen applicants.

The fact that one person essentially controls the makeup of the state’s law enforcement agency is troubling, and it raised alarm bells for years.

WSP’s demographics haven’t changed much in nearly two decades. According to a U.S. Department of Justice survey, 88 percent of troopers were white in 2005. As of last year, 87 percent of troopers were white, while the percentage of white Washingtonians declined from 78 percent to 68 percent over the same time.

The WSP, the second-largest force in Washington after the Seattle Police Department, has also faced criticism for disproportionately policing people of color. A new Washington State University study obtained by The Times and Northwest News Network found that between 2015 and 2019, Hispanic, Native American and Black drivers pulled over by state troopers are more likely to be searched than white motorists.

As part of the WSP hiring process, candidates submit to a psychological exam to determine fitness for duty. WSP psychologist Dr. Daniel W. Clark has conducted more than 3,500 preemployment and psychological exams in 27 years at the agency and others.

A 2016 report to the Legislature recommended that WSP contract with outside psychologists. This year, a Deloitte report reinforced this recommendation, noting that the psychological exam had been identified as a barrier to a more inclusive workforce since 2016, but the WSP took no action.

WSP Chief John Batiste wasn’t having any of it. “That’s a recommendation, and I reject that recommendation. I have a full-time psychologist,” he told The Times.

Batiste, the agency’s first Black chief, should rethink his response.

“It’s astounding to me in a department that size there would be a single human being who would have that kind of power over hiring for that length of time,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

A spokesman said Gov. Jay Inslee is committed to diversifying the WSP: “We know there is still work to be done. We will continue to be involved in those discussions with State Patrol to make more progress.”

After years of identifying a problem, it is past time for WSP to resolve it. Reform the psychological exam process, and hire more psychologists.

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