The Capitol Record

Prescription drug abuse disqualifying applicants from Washington State Patrol

The new class of recruits was moving too slow, not responding in perfect synch to the call-and-response orders coming from the trainers at the Washington State Patrol academy.

Their trainers needed to teach them a lesson.

So they sent the fresh-faced recruits outside into the freezing rain, where the students were forced to hold themselves up with one arm on the wet concrete until they learned how to properly shout in unison.

It isn’t mean to be cruel, said Trooper Mitch Bauer. It builds teamwork as the recruits bond together over a “common enemy” — in this case, their screaming superiors.

The state patrol is hiring at an unprecedented rate as they prepare to fill positions being vacated by a wave of retiring baby boomers. They typically train one class a year, but the state Legislature approved $5 million in funding for an additional class.

Each class has room for 67 recruits. But not enough qualified applicants are making it through the hiring rounds, leaving the state patrol struggling to fill vacancies.

Trooper Pete Stock said the “biggest issue of late” is the abuse of prescription drugs. It’s a felony to take prescription drugs that are meant for someone else and many applicants are being disqualified during the hiring process, which includes taking a lie-detector test.

Stock is trying to get the message out to anyone interested in a career in law enforcement. “If you have pain, see your doctor. Not your friend,” Stock said.

The patrol will still consider applicants who have used prescription drugs on a case-by-case basis, but it can be “hard to overcome,” Stock said.

On Monday, 34 recruits started their first day of “arming” class, the initial phase of training required to become a trooper. The training lasts seven weeks, after which some will immediately go on to the second phase of the academy. Others will get a few months of field experience working in places like the governor’s mansion, or on state ferries. About 10 percent will drop out.

The recruits were selected out of about 1,500 applicants. Despite spending the day being yelled at in the rain, new recruit Eric Magnussen said it’s “been a blast so far.”

Magnussen said the hiring process was extensive and took him several months, but he understands it’s necessary. “It gets the best of the best,” he said.

Photo slideshow of the first day of training:

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