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Washington State Patrol relaxes drug, crime rules for applicants

OLYMPIA – Time was that if you wanted to be a state trooper but had a conviction for drinking as a teen or had smoked pot within the last three years, you might as well forget about filling out the application form.

Activities like that were an automatic “get lost” for people wanting to join the Washington State Patrol.

Now, however, you might at least get an interview. The WSP will look at you as a “whole person” and see if you learned from your mistakes, straightened up and got your act together.

The State Patrol is revising its screening process for applicants in ways that the agency now contends reflect the realities of today and the demographics of tomorrow.

It faces the possible loss of more than 200 troopers and sergeants between now and 2017 through retirement, and it isn’t attracting enough qualified applicants to fill those holes.

Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the patrol, said the main changes involve several things that previously disqualified applicants, such as a conviction for being a minor in possession of alcohol. Say it happened when you were 16 and foolish, Calkins said, but now you’re a mature 25-year-old with a spouse, family and good job history. The patrol would give you an interview.

Previously, an applicant could not have smoked marijuana or hash in the last three years. The patrol has dropped that to one year, but will still ask how often you used the drug.

Using prescription drugs that were prescribed for someone else was also a cause for rejection. Now the patrol could be a little more understanding in a case where an injured athlete got pain pills from a roommate or team member for something the drugs were designed to help.

But taking them to get high, or using cocaine, shooting heroin or dropping LSD are still cause for rejection. So are any felony convictions and any type of conviction for domestic violence, theft, moral turpitude, hit and run, or possessing a firearm while committing a crime.

Applicants will still be interviewed about activities that before would have caused them to be rejected. They’ll also be interviewed about things they did that were illegal but they didn’t get caught doing. The applicants must explain how they’ve grown from their experiences.

“Just because you meet these standards doesn’t mean you’re going to be hired,” Calkins said. “We still reserve the right to make a judgment on whether an applicant is a good fit.”

Mitch Parker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the patrol probably had the strictest set of automatic disqualifiers for applicants.

Now it finds itself in the same boat as many law enforcement agencies around the state, needing to replace officers who started in the mid-’70s and ’80s and are nearing retirement, Parker said. Many agencies are reviewing their policies.

“When you’re in a buyer’s market, you can be selective,” he said. Even for the highly regarded State Patrol, that’s no longer the case.

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