Washington State Patrol experiencing historic staffing shortage

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Patrol is down over 200 positions and with recruiting classes getting smaller and more troopers reaching retirement age, the agency fears it could be short-staffed for years to come.

Chris Loftis with WSP says their last two academy classes have been the most diverse classes they’ve had, but in total, they are only bringing in 87 new troopers.

“We have a hole that is deep and it’s only going to get deeper in the next few years,” Loftis said.

Loftis shared these numbers with KIRO 7 about how many on staff will be eligible for retirement the next few years:

“But when you look at the whole system. That means all of the command, the detectives, the specialty troopers … we’re between 200 to 250 folks down right now,” Loftis said.

The staffing shortage is also drawing concerns from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“That would have a dramatic impact on the ability to enforce the laws and assist folks on our highway system and keep traffic moving,” District 31 Representative Eric Robertson said.

Rep. Robertson was a WSP trooper for nearly two decades. He believes his former agency isn’t the only one reeling with staffing issues.

“You look around at agencies all around Washington state and all around the northwest,” Robertson said.

But there has been legislation passed in the last session that is addressing the issue. HB 1638 would not only give WSP better recruiting tools, but it would also give new cadets and officers making the lateral move to the agency thousands of dollars in incentives. To break it down:

  • The incentives for cadets are $5,000 after completion of academy, and another $5,000 after completion of a one year probationary period.
  • The incentives for lateral hires are $8,000 after completion of lateral training class, $6,000 after completion of a one year probationary period, and $6,000 after completion of two years of service.

“I think that we need to consider what they are doing out on the roads is that they are leaving their families at home. They don’t know if they are going to get home,” District 4 Representative Suzanne Schmidt said.

“Because if you can’t reach the public, you can’t bring the public in,” District 44 Representative Brandy Donaghy said.

Yet with these incentives, both lawmakers and WSP believe it will take more to truly address the issue.

“I’m sure we will have to come up with other strategies on top of this. And we are going to have to think short-term, mid-term to long-term,” Loftis said.

Incentives from HB 1638 are set to take effect July 1.