Western Washington Gets Real: WSP working to diversify force

After a summer of protests demanding racial justice, law enforcement agencies such as the Washington State Patrol are facing their own reckoning as a department that does not reflect the people of the state.

“The consequences are huge starting with relationship building and overall trust,” Amandeep Puri said.

Puri is WSP’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. She was hired specifically to look at the agency’s employment practices, policies, and to develop ways to increase minority recruitment.

“It is utterly important for us here at WSP to fix the problem,” she said. “We’ve been working on it for years, but we are also fighting several stereotypes and perceptions—the perceptions that it is just a white man agency.”

John Batiste is the first Black chief of the state patrol. He has been in charge since 2005, but even under his leadership, there’s been little racial diversification of the department.

According to WSP, commissioned troopers who are people of color grew slightly from 12.6% in 2011 to 14.4% in 2020.

The number of Black troopers went from 2.4% to 2.9%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Blacks make up 4.4% of the state.

Tracking changes in that same time period:

There were 3.5% Hispanic troopers. It is gone up to 4.9%, far less than the 13% in the state.

Asians and Pacific Islanders made up 4.6% of the force. Now, it is at 4.9%—less than half the 10.4% in Washington.

The number of Native Americans in WSP dropped from 2.1% to 1.6%. They make up 1.9% of the state.

“The growth is not as much we would like to see, but there is growth,” Puri said.

“We’re not doing enough, we’re not doing it right, and ... it’s time. It’s past time,” Washington State Rep. Sharon Wylie of Vancouver aid.

Back in 2011, women made up 7.49% of the force. Today, that number is 9.84%.

In response, Wylie co-sponsored last year’s bill that, among other provisions, calls for WSP to research why women and minorities are underrepresented on the force and how to better recruit them.

“I think that we need to re-imagine what law enforcement is and how you talk about law enforcement to children as they’re growing up,” Wylie added.

The last class to graduate from the WSP Academy in Shelton was comprised of 40% women and minorities. It has improved over the last two classes that certainly are a far cry from state patrol’s earliest days when it consisted only of white men.

KIRO 7 asked Puri if it is fair to say that increasing the diversity was not previously a priority at WSP.

“I would not say that, but it is much more in focus right now,” Puri answered.

That includes revamping th entire recruiting program.

“We just hired three new recruiters who are specifically working on building relationships of trust with the communities which are traditionally underrepresented,” Puri explained.

The agency also hired an independent diversity consultant.

“We know there is a problem. And we need to break several barriers and stereotypes, but we are willing to work on it and we acknowledge that there is a lot of work to do,” she said.

But they can’t do it alone.

“Anyone who is thinking about changing the face of law enforcement should think about a career with us ... and be a part of the change, because if not now, then when?” Puri said.

WSP wants to add 60 new troopers and 24 commercial vehicle enforcement officers in the next six months. The next academy starts in July.