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The ins and outs of the Washington State Patrol

Sgt. Neil Schuster shows the Andros F6A robot. The Washington State Patrol Interagency Bomb Squad purchased the bomb robot through a partnership with the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management.  - Photo by Kassie Korich
Sgt. Neil Schuster shows the Andros F6A robot. The Washington State Patrol Interagency Bomb Squad purchased the bomb robot through a partnership with the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management.
— image credit: Photo by Kassie Korich

Washington State Patrol (WSP) troopers do more than just write speeding tickets, so they strive to hire the best men and women out there.

WSP began a new marketing and recruitment initiative in August 2006 to meet the hiring goal of 52 trooper cadets for the December 2006 WSP Academy class. The efforts resulted in a 106 percent increase in applicants and allowed the agency to hire 134 trooper cadets for upcoming WSP Academy classes.

Despite the successful recruitment initiative, WSP loses four to five troopers monthly due to various reasons and needs to fill 58 vacant trooper positions.

“We want the best of the best,” said WSP Sgt. Johnny Alexander.

The training process

Not everyone who submits an application to WSP is accepted to the Training Academy in Shelton. Roughly seven out of 100 applicants are hired and accepted to attend the WSP Academy, according to WSP Cpl. Ryan Spurling. Once hired, trooper cadets attend an arming course for six weeks. They are then permitted to carry a weapon and guard the governor’s mansion or patrol the state’s ferry terminals. Afterwards, trooper cadets attend a 26-week training session at the WSP Academy.

The Academy is known worldwide for its military-like training. Law enforcement officials from England and South Africa have visited the Academy and were highly impressed, according to Spurling.

The Academy is known for its unique training including water safety and the 2.7-mile emergency vehicle drive course. The course is nationally recognized as one of the finest in the nation.

“We were the first agency in the world to start high speed driving training,” Spurling said.

Cpl. Jason Blankers is a driving instructor at the Academy. WSP troopers must qualify on the course every two years. Troopers practice maneuvering vehicles through water and ice, drive through a slow speed skills course, practice taking curves at high speeds and perfect emergency maneuvers on the fast track.

“They can go as fast as they want with no errors,” Blankers said.

WSP’s driving course is one of the largest west of the Mississippi River, according to Spurling.

“We’re spoiled out here big time,” Blankers said with a smile.

The WSP Academy also utilizes a judgement simulator to train trooper cadets. The simulator has been around for about 20 years, but has recently been modified to enhance interaction between the computerized situation and the trooper cadet. Trooper cadets talk to the simulated suspects and can use a simulated gun to shot at him or her if necessary.

“It gives you a chance to experience things before getting on the road,” said WSP Cpl. Mark Tegard. “Based on the actions of the officer, we can alter the outcome.”

The judgement simulator shows trooper cadets how objects and people can be perceived differently and how quickly situations can unfold.

“We’re learning more and more just how quickly things can occur,” Tegard said.

After trooper cadets complete the 26-week training academy, they are on probation for a year before becoming a fully commissioned WSP trooper.

Since WSP formed in 1921, the law enforcement agency has had 26 officers killed in the line of duty. Spurling credits the intensive military-style training taught at the Academy with the low number of line-of-duty deaths.

“We are fairly low and we’d like to keep it that way,” Spurling said.

Opportunities with WSP

The men and women of WSP have the opportunity to become part-time members of the WSP Interagency Bomb Squad. Members of the bomb squad are on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Last year, the bomb squad responded to about 120 calls for assistance, according to Sgt. Neil Schuster.

“We never know when we’re going to get a call,” he said. “It’s just part of the job.”

Last year, the WSP Interagency Bomb Squad acquired the Andros F6A robot. The bomb robot allows bomb squad members to get close to suspected bombs without putting themselves in danger. The robot was purchased through a partnership with the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management.

“We don’t have to go up to devices like you see in the movies,” Schuster said.

WSP Interagency Bomb Squad members are trained by FBI and Army officials in Huntsville, Ala. WSP sends the members of the bomb squad across the country to better their services.

“The whole reason that we exist is to serve the citizens,” Spurling said.

Joining the SWAT Team

The WSP Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team consists of about 25 WSP troopers. They are trained to handle a variety of situations including weapons of mass destruction, suspicious packages and methamphetamine labs.

The SWAT team acquired a new armored vehicle four months ago. The Lenco Bear is made of level four armor and is capable of withstanding an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). A single door on the vehicle weighs 600 pounds, according to Trooper James Prouty.

“The armor on the outside can withstand IEDs,” Prouty said. “We need that type of protection when responding.”

The Bear carries various pieces of equipment including guns, ladders and a thermal camera. Each SWAT team member wears more than 50 pounds worth of protective armor on their bodies on top of carrying heavy weapons.

Commercial vehicle enforcement

The commercial vehicle division of WSP spends their days investigating trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds. WSP Trooper Craig Powell said the division investigates collisions involving large trucks and inspects vehicles’ loads and equipment

“We check drivers’ logs and make sure they’re not tired or driving too many hours,” Powell said.

Members of the commercial vehicle division carry scales in their vehicles. If they see a truck they believe to be carrying an overweight load, the trooper will pull the truck over and weigh them. The scales cost more than $3,000 each.

“We will pull them over and weigh them right on the spot,” Powell said.

Troopers may issue drivers tickets costing about $3,000 for drivers with overweight or unsafe loads. The commercial vehicle division’s goals are to decrease traffic collisions involving large vehicles and preserve the roadways.

WSP K-9 Unit

Once a trooper has completed his or her fourth year with WSP, he or she can train to become a member of the K-9 Unit. The K-9 Unit includes 54 dogs of all breeds trained to sniff out explosives and narcotics. Many of WSP’s dogs come from animal shelters throughout the state, according to Trooper Steve Gardner.

“Most of our dogs are rescues,” he said. “We don’t care what kind of dog they are, as long as they have a good nose.”

Troopers in the WSP K-9 Unit hold their animals and handlers to a high standard. WSP has a 90 percent confirmation rate with the dogs; the national standard is 80 percent.

“We don’t want to make any mistakes when it comes to explosives,” Gardner said.

Once a dog finds the drug or explosive device, he or she will sit or lay down. The handler will then reward the animal with his or her toy.

“All of our dogs are very toy-oriented,” Gardner said.

After the dogs retire, the handler has the opportunity to keep his or her animal.

“Most guys and gals get pretty attached to their animal,” Gardner said.

The K-9 Unit checks vehicles at the ferry terminals throughout the state and responds to various other calls throughout the year.

Living in a glass house

WSP troopers are a visible presence throughout the state. Spurling said troopers must act responsibility both at work and at home.

“When you put this uniform on, you live in a glass house,” he said. “This is not a profession where you can have two lives.”

For more information about WSP, visit its Web site at www.wsp.wa.gov.

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