While most hiring organizations, from school districts to nursing homes, are tightening up employment screening policies and expanding the scope of background check procedures, the Washington State Police appear to be standing apart from the crowd by doing just the opposite. In fact, the state police force is actually loosening its employment screening requirements in an effort to widen the pool of potential applicants.
According to a report recently published by KIRO News, a local Washington news station based in Seattle, the Washington State Patrol has long required its applicants to meet a wide range of qualification prerequisites in order to be considered for a job as a trooper. For instance, until now, state troopers have not been allowed to have any visible tattoos.
That particular requirement is a bit more unusual than the others, which mostly concerned instances of drug use or possession. For example, an applicant with more than five drug offenses on his or her record would have been disqualified from consideration, as would someone with any drug offense recorded in the past three years and any marijuana offense recorded in the past 12 months. Finally, any use of heroin or opiates has traditionally been considered an automatic blacklist offense within the Washington State Patrol.
Most of those requirements are not uncommonly seen in employment screening standards for police officers. However, Robert Calkins, a trooper with the Washington State Patrol, told KIRO News that the force was having difficulty filling its academy classes, and that he believed the staunch nature of the screening requirements might be scaring potential applicants away. In Calkins’ estimation, there are plenty of perfectly qualified people out there who could make fine state troopers. By loosening screening requirements, the force hopes to cater to that a different crowd of applicants. Unfortunately, some also worry that the lax background check policies will allow corruption and crime to creep into the force.
Of course, background check policies aren’t the only reason the Washington State Force is in decline, as far as employment numbers are concerned. A vast percentage of the force’s troopers were hired in the 1980s and 1990s, and are now nearing retirement time. Calkins estimates that as many as 223 troopers could leave the force in the next four years for retirement purposes alone. Add in all of the other possible departures that may come in that time, and the Washington State Patrol is clearly reaching dire straits. A new employment push with slightly relaxed hiring standards could help to correct the shortage.
Not all of the screening standards will be thrown out the window, however. Applicants for the Washington State Patrol will still have to undergo a traditional criminal background check and any applicant found with felony convictions, traces of domestic violence, or drug-dealing history would automatically be classified as “unfit for duty.” In addition to the criminal background check, troopers must give a full history – including their academic and professional pasts – undergo a variety of written and oral tests, and submit to medical and physical examinations.