WSP seeking hundreds of new applicants
KENNEWICK – The Washington State Patrol is looking for a few good men and women to join their agency. Actually, more than a few.
In the next five years, more than 300 troopers are expected to retire and officials are scrambling to find new candidates to fill those spots.
“On average, we’re losing five troopers a month in retirements,” said Trooper Chris Thorson.
Thorson has been a trooper for 14 years, working out of the Kennewick detachment and now is working full-time as a recruiter in the State Patrol district that stretches from Yakima to Walla Walla.
He’s one of eight in the state – one from each district – who will be focusing on finding the next generation of troopers to patrol state highways.
“This is kind of unprecedented for our agency,” Thorson said. “We’re trying to wrap our head around why we’re having difficulty recruiting.”
On average, for every 100 people who apply, only three or four get past the four phases of the testing process and are cleared to be hired, he said.
The agency is planning to have two cadet training classes each year and needs 60 cadets in each class.
Last spring, when the State Patrol started a hiring blitz to find 60 cadets to fill its second academy class of the year, the focus was on physical fitness, but the problem was finding candidates able to pass the standard fitness requirements.
The benchmarks, based on age and gender, set out how many pushups and sit-ups must be done in a minute and how fast a 1.5-mile run can be completed.
More recently, however, officials are finding that candidates who pass the fitness and written test aren’t getting past the background checks because of prior DUIs or drug use.
“A lot of good people are calling with DUIs from 15 years ago, but we can’t have that,” Thorson said. “And taking prescription pills that are not theirs.”
Prescription pill use is not a problem the agency has faced in the much in the past, which Thorson said probably is a reflection of today’s society.
“The only thing we can do is get the word out about the problem,” he said.
The benefit of having Thorson working full time as a recruiter in the region is that he’s able to build a rapport with potential candidates, he said.
He also is holding tests in the Tri-Cities, which means applicants don’t have to leave the area to complete the physical fitness or writing exams.
The next test is scheduled for Jan. 5 at WorkSource, 815 N. Kellogg St., in Kennewick. He already has 40 people signed up.
Thorson plans to have tests every two or three months.
“I honestly think this is going to help, and we’re going to be hiring people from our community,” he said.
Anyone 19 1/2 or older, with a high school diploma or a GED, can apply to be a trooper. There’s no maximum age for a cadet, Thorson said.
Troopers can work until they’re 65, so if someone is 50 and can pass all the requirements, he or she could be a trooper.
About 90 percent of a trooper’s job is traffic enforcement, including crash investigation, DUI patrols and focusing on speeding and aggressive drivers.
But, Thorson said, there are a lot of specialties within the agency, including being on the SWAT team, working on ferry boats or even at the academy training new troopers.
“Once you get in, there’s a lot of different opportunities you can have,” he said.
Qualities being sought in new troopers are common sense, the ability to know right from wrong and the desire to help other people, he said.
For Thorson, becoming a trooper was an easy decision.
“I’ve known since high school that I wanted to be in law enforcement because I always had a need and want to help people,” he said.