When Washington State Patrol troopers are not happy on the job, it’s likely to negatively impact their performance. And in work as crucial as patrolling the state’s highways, this could create serious public safety concerns.
A just-released study commissioned by the state Legislature found higher salaries alone won’t solve the state patrol’s problem with recruiting and retaining troopers.
The report concludes that dissatisfaction with the agency’s management is a bigger motivator than money in troopers’ decisions to leave the patrol and sign on with other law enforcement departments.
A critical problem is low morale among troopers who told consultants they are underpaid, overworked because of increasing vacancies and ignored by their bosses. Through interviews and survey comments, the study found troopers unhappy with how shifts are scheduled and the agency’s expectations over the number of tickets to be written and driver stops to be made. There is a problem with the patrol’s culture.
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The report shows 64 percent of working troopers and 79 percent of those who have recently left said they would not encourage people to join the Washington State Patrol. The state patrol has 100 vacancies, and the number of unfilled jobs has risen every year since 2009.
“There is a feeling of dissatisfaction and low morale that impacts” the agency’s operations, according to the report.
When troopers are not happy, there could be some leakage that does not make it easy for them to do their best work. Nobody is saying there are specific problems linked to low morale, but given human nature, that is certainly a strong possibility. It’s something that can’t be easily quantified, but it nevertheless is a major concern.
Lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee must give this report serious consideration, including replacing WSP Chief John Batiste, who has been at the helm since 2005.
“I think the fact that the management issue came up was a shock to a lot of people,” said Jeff Merrill, president of the Washington State Patrol Trooper Association. “Can we continue to operate at a high level under the current command structure? I don’t know.”
The report offered some viable options to consider. It lists two-dozen recommendations, including the following: Improving recruiting practices; boosting pay; changing the way shifts are scheduled; conducting performance evaluations of all management staff; and being more open-minded toward potential recruits who have had minor convictions or past drug use.
The Legislature and the governor can’t solve the problems with a magic wand or by just throwing money at them. But identifying specific problems, as has been done through this report, is a great starting place to fix what is broken.