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WA State Patrol will bring in outside firm to conduct psychological evaluations after news reports

Courtesy of Washington State Patrol

The Washington State Patrol is making changes to its hiring process following a report by public radio and The Seattle Times. That report focused on the patrol’s lack of diversity and the role of the psychological evaluation in weeding out trooper candidates.

The firm that will be doing the psychological screenings is called Public Safety Psychological Services. Based in Lynnwood, Washington it works with over 200 agencies in the Pacific Northwest including the Seattle and Bellevue Police Departments. The owner and managing partner said her firm is committed to evolving the work it does as the culture of policing evolves.

For years people inside and outside the Washington State Patrol have warned that the psychological evaluation eliminates too many would-be troopers. It also appears to disproportionately reject candidates of color. The patrol previously announced it planned to have an outside auditor review the psychological screening process. But now, while that audit is pending, the agency has also decided to contract with an outside firm to do the psychological evaluations. For the last nearly three decades that screening has been done by the patrol’s longtime, in-house psychologist.

“My reaction to that is I appreciate the State Patrol working to make changes,” said Kevin Van De Wege, a Washington Democratic Senator who has long been concerned about the psychological evaluation and the lack of diversity in the State Patrol.

“And it sounds like they’re moving in the right direction,” Van De Wege said, “But I think they need to move quicker to overcome a problem that’s existed for too long.”

Another state lawmaker agreed. Democrat Bill Ramos is a member of the House Transportation Committee. He’s also part of the Legislature’s Members of Color Caucus. Ramos says he’s hopeful the change in the psychological screening process will have an impact. But he also says it’s not enough.

“In my mind you have to change the whole system, it’s not one little piece of it,” Ramos said. ”There’s a whole lot of pieces that are causing this problem.”

The State Patrol’s diversity and hiring will be a topic at a meeting of the state’s Joint Transportation Committee later this month. Meanwhile, the firm that will take over psychological evaluations is likely to be busy. The patrol says it’s trying to hire 60 new trooper cadets by February.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."