Two bills, heard Monday in the Senate Transportation Committee, seek to halt what a survey of the Washington State Patrol calls an “unsustainable” drop in troopers because many officers are leaving for higher pay at other police departments or retiring.
OLYMPIA — Faced with reports of an unhappy and underpaid Washington State Patrol, lawmakers are trying to give officers a pay raise and make other departmental upgrades to reverse an increasing shortage of troopers.
Two bills in the Legislature, heard Monday in the Senate Transportation Committee, seek to halt what a survey of the State Patrol calls an “unsustainable” drop in troopers because many officers are leaving for higher pay at other police departments or are retiring. The bills would require Patrol salaries to be competitive with other local law-enforcement agencies.
Patrol Chief John Batiste testified that the department is losing an average nine troopers a month.
“It’s my belief we strongly need to turn this situation around,” he said.
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A 7.5 percent across-the-board raise is the main tenet of one proposed solution, Senate Bill 6547, sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville. Becker’s bill would also have the State Patrol develop a marketing and outreach plan to recruit new troopers.
Another bill, Senate Bill 6331, would adjust trooper salaries to always be higher than half the top-five salaries of local law-enforcement agencies in Washington.
Under the proposal, if a trooper leaves the State Patrol within three years to become a local police officer, that local department would have to pay the state for the trooper’s training costs.
That bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver. In a phone interview before the hearing, Benton said that when troopers are trained by the state, then leave for local police outfits, “it ends up costing the state and the State Patrol account an awful lot of money to train troopers that we don’t get to use.”
Candice Bock, a government-relations advocate for the Association of Washington Cities, said local departments shouldn’t be on the hook for a trooper’s training costs just for hiring officers.
A House bill addressing the issue but not directly offering the Patrol a pay raise, House Bill 2872, is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore said the Patrol doesn’t comment on proposed legislation. But Davor Gjurasic, a lobbyist for the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, and Capt. E.J. Swainson, president of the Washington State Patrol Lieutenants Association, testified in support of the main aspects of both Senate bills.
The survey, created by a California-based financial-consultant company, was presented to the Senate committee Monday. It recommends changes to the Patrol such as salaries adjusted by location, bonuses to retain troopers of retirement age, and revisions to retirement plans for early-career troopers.
But money isn’t everything to officers, according to the survey. Fewer than 18 percent of troopers and sergeants surveyed said they feel valued, and 37 percent said they feel somewhat valued. Fewer than 10 percent said their opinion is taken into account by the department, and 32.6 percent said they feel their opinion is somewhat valued.
The report has five recommendations to fix job-satisfaction issues, including allowing troopers to take part in selecting new, more comfortable uniforms.
Moore said the Patrol is taking steps to evaluate and improve communication between management and officers in the field, and that the department plans to ask the Legislature to pay for new uniforms next year.