Thanks to investigative journalism, the Washington State Patrol has made an important change to help ensure a more diverse trooper corps patrols the state.
Collaborative reporting by The Times and the Northwest News Network revealed in September that the WSP remained much whiter than the state’s population nearly 20 years after John Batiste became its first Black chief in 2005. Batiste should not have needed good journalism to show that WSP’s ranks were lacking diversity and should have long ago taken steps to remedy the issue. A new reform taking applicant reviews out of the hands of WSP’s in-house psychologist is decades overdue.
Agency data over a four-year period showed the psychological screenings were weeding out candidates at a racially uneven rate. At an evaluation stage where 20% of white applicants were rejected, 33% of Black candidates, 35% of Hispanic candidates and 41% of Asian candidates were cut, disparities that cried out for change.
Yet without external pressure, red flags about the inequitable outcomes of screenings by 27-year WSP psychologist Daniel Clark went ignored. Batiste stubbornly kept relying on Clark to serve as a gatekeeper for applications, disregarding change recommendations from WSP’s human resources office, a 2016 legislative report and a consultant’s findings this year. And the trooper corps remained 87% white into 2020, when the Census found the state 62% white.
About a month after this unacceptable situation came to public light, WSP finally hired an outside contractor to screen trooper candidates using updated methods. Batiste could ignore government-insider alerts, but maintaining this broken system in full view of a public that could exert pressure on Batiste’s boss, Gov. Jay Inslee, is another matter.
That’s watchdog journalism, and an object lesson in the value of a free, independent press.