(EMILY FITZGERALD/Centralia Chronicle)
Employment: Agency seeks to increase diversity, build community trust…
The Washington State Patrol (WSP) has made changes to its recruitment program in an effort to increase diversity within the agency.
With a goal of hiring 60 troopers from a round of academy classes starting in July, the state patrol is encouraging anyone interested in joining the agency to reach out to a recruiter — regardless of their background or experience.
“We’re not looking for the perfect individual, but we are looking for an individual who’s the right fit for WSP, because at the end of the day, we know that there are qualified individuals who have a diverse background and we’d love to see all of them apply,” said trooper and recruiter Bryan Villanueva, who is one of 10 active WSP troopers currently working in Lewis County.
WSP was among the law enforcement agencies put under scrutiny this summer due to national protests against police brutality and institutional racism, and WSP made headlines in regard to troopers’ response to Seattle protests. The agency has since put forward official statements condemning the use of unnecessary force and supporting peaceful protests, but troopers expect that it will take a lot more work to build trust across the state.
“Sometimes law enforcement gets a bad rap, and I’d love to see some of the people who think they can make a change and want their voice to be heard to actually apply and make a difference in their community, bring a little bit of positivity in the community,” Villanueva said.
New this year, WSP has centralized its recruiting program so recruiters all report back to the main hub instead of separate districts and also hired three new recruiters, two on the west side and one on the east side of the state. Recruiters have also been specially-tasked with working with various minority communities with the goal of building long term relationships.
“They are working hard to build connections using many creative ways,” said Amandeep Puri, who was hired in August 2020 as a diversity, equity and inclusion officer and tasked with reviewing WSP’s employment practices and developing strategies for hiring and retaining a diverse workforce.
According to WSP, commissioned troopers who are people of color grew slightly from 12.6% in 2011 to 14.4% in 2020, but the numbers are still far from reflective of the state’s population.
“We want to send a clear message to the community at large and to our potential candidates that we are hiring and that we strive to be a diverse and inclusive agency,” Puri said.
To qualify, applicants must be at least 19-and-a-half years old, have graduated high school or completed an equivalency program, be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident with a valid driver’s license, and have no past felonies or DUI’s. Anyone who meets these base requirements and is interested in applying should start by getting to know a recruiter such as Villanueva, who can answer questions about WSP and the hiring process.
From there, the recruit goes through a four-phase hiring process, starting with a written exam and a physical fitness exam. If they pass, the recruit completes a polygraph and background check, and if those come back clear, they have an oral board interview and finally a psychological and medical exam. If the recruit successfully gets through the hiring process, then they’re accepted into the WSP Training Academy.
“Once you make it through the hardest part, which I would say is the hiring process, they’re going to give you all the tools that you need and they’re going to teach you everything you need to know in the academy,” said Villanueva.
While a college degree or previous military experience may help a candidate secure promotions or pay raises further down the road, Villanueva said he wants to assure potential recruits that neither are necessary to have a successful career in the state patrol.
“Some people think they might not have what it takes, but I think until you actually get out there and try, you won’t actually know,” he said.
Originally from West Virginia, Villanueva moved to Centralia with his wife and baby and joined WSP after finishing his four years in the Navy in 2018.
“There’s a lot of kids who live in poverty (here) and that’s where I came from,” he said, adding that one of the things he likes most about being a recruiter is being able to inspire local kids. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can become a law enforcement officer in general and you can become a Washington State Trooper … Just being able to go out and give people a little bit of motivation and just show them that we’re human at the end of the day, I believe that’s what really put my heart in it to actually recruit,” he said.
Historically, only 4-6% of all applicants make it through the full hiring and training process and become troopers.
WSP had 42 troopers graduate from the training academy in March 2020 and another 49 graduate in September.
After the upcoming course begins in August, the next round of training classes won’t start until February 2022.
Villanueva encourages anyone who has questions about joining WSP or is interested in applying to reach out to him at 360-485-8753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is available online at https://www.wsp.wa.gov/be-a-trooper.