By Rikki King
Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste held a live chat with reporters Thursday afternoon. We were allowed to ask about any old thing except active investigations.
The live chat was part of the patrol’s continued efforts to improve public relations and provide direct access to the chief, they said.
It was fun.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of the questions I posed and other topics that came up.
The patrol still is struggling to meet its recruiting goals, Batiste said. The patrol expects hundreds more troopers to retire in the next three to four years, and they need to fill those spots.
“We’re feverishly recruiting for new troopers,” he said.
Two major issues are applicants’ physical fitness abilities and past drug use, especially abuse of prescription drugs.
“Physical fitness is a big hurdle for a lot of people in terms of their ability to get through the process successfully,” he said.
Applicants with unprofessional Facebook posts have come up — I asked — but that’s not as big an issue as the fitness and past drug use.
The agency also is transitioning to Chevrolet Caprices as the standard squad car since the Crown Vics were discontinued. (I last wrote about the issue playing out in our county here.)
“It’s going well,” the chief said.
About 23 Caprices have been issued to troopers so far, he said. Everyone has to be trained on the new model before they’re sent out on the road in one.
I asked how the Major Accident Investigation Team was juggling its case load, including several high-profile cases in Snohomish County in recent months.
“They are being kept quite busy,” the chief said. He noted that the team and patrol leaders have been working on ways to speed up turnaround time in responding to an incident, conducting a thorough investigation and getting the results to prosecutors.
In our county, it is typical for investigations of serious wrecks to take about six months to a year.
I also noted that WSP has been more aggressive in terms of letting its spokespeople use Twitter to release details about ongoing incidents. (You can follow our local media contact trooper Keith Leary at @wspd7pio.)
The troopers turned to Twitter as part of efforts to “find every way possible to reach out to the media and the public in particular,” Batiste said.
The hope is that Twitter can increase access to the patrol for media and the public and vice versa, he said.
“It’s a growing phenomenon,” he said.
As we talked about efforts combating drunken driving, the chief mentioned U.S. 2 in particular. The highway is notorious for head-on collisions. He called it a “very crowded situation.”
“We’re constantly following the data,” he said.
Troopers who work the highway have to learn their beat so they can pull people over in safe places, he said. Motorcycles have proven especially effective along some stretches of the highway.
— WSP has been busy assisting with wildfires in Eastern Washington over the past few months. The fires have taken up a lot of time and resources.
— WSP is getting ready to begin its annual winter driving safety campaigns. The first heavy rains could mix with oils on the road and make for slippery conditions. Start increasing your following distance, folks.
— WSP is seeing an increase of motorcycle fatalities, especially related to drinking, drugging and/or running off the road. They’re upping education efforts as a result.