Seattle, November 17, 2023
In a historic turn of events, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) is embarking on a new chapter in its 102-year history by actively seeking “lateral entry” law enforcement officers to bolster its force. Confronting difficulties in recruitment and staff retention, the introduction of a $20,000 bonus incentive is designed to allure seasoned officers from different jurisdictions, providing them the chance to serve as troopers in Washington State.
The WSP unveiled this pioneering lateral hire policy in late September, aiming to bolster its workforce and better serve the needs of Washingtonians. Chief John R. Batiste emphasized the importance of welcoming individuals with prior law enforcement experience to contribute to the agency’s mission.
This strategic move comes on the heels of the unanimous passing of House Bill 1638 by state lawmakers in April. The bill established a “state trooper expedited recruitment incentive program” to address the WSP’s staffing challenges. With 683 trooper positions in its highway field force, 187 of those positions were unfilled as of September 2022. Presently, there are over 250 openings for commissioned officers due to a combination of existing vacancies and anticipated retirements.
Traditionally, aspiring recruits underwent a rigorous process, including written and physical exams, personal history statements, and extensive training at the WSP academy. However, the lateral entry legislation streamlines this process for eligible candidates with prior law enforcement knowledge and experience, facilitating a shorter training period.
While background checks and completion of the WSP academy remain mandatory for all troopers, lateral entry candidates will benefit from a more expedited training schedule. The legislation also emphasizes the agency’s commitment to creating a more diverse workforce, addressing staffing concerns across the organization.
Shannon Bendiksen, WSP assistant chief, explained, “When we looked at our staffing levels across the agency, we determined our typical trooper basic classes weren’t enough. This was one of the ideas that came forward, and we certainly want to try something new to supplement our staffing levels in the field.”
The WSP aims to initiate its inaugural class of 40 lateral hires in March 2024, followed by a second class later in the same year. The training duration will vary based on individual credentials and experience but is expected to include four weeks of classroom time and four weeks of coaching with a senior trooper. Out-of-state recruits will participate in an extra two-week training program at the academy, specifically focusing on Washington state law.
The agency is going beyond just expanding its recruitment efforts; their dedication is evident in the attractive compensation they’re putting on the table. They’re offering competitive salaries, starting at nearly $64,000 for trooper cadets and going up to over $104,000 for troopers with five or more years of experience. Notably, trooper cadets can now grab hiring bonuses of up to $10,000, showcasing the agency’s progressive approach.
For those eyeing trooper cadet positions, the prerequisites include a high school diploma or equivalent, being 19-1/2 years or older, possessing a valid driver’s license, and maintaining a clean record without any felony or DUI convictions. The WSP academy, distinct from the “Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy,” provides specialized training for the state’s largest law enforcement organization.
With around 2,200 employees, the WSP operates on a biennial budget of $696 million, encompassing commissioned staff and civilians. Beyond highway patrol duties, the agency boasts nearly two dozen specialty units and divisions, showcasing its multifaceted approach to law enforcement and commitment to public safety.