Obeying criticism of the recruitment process, the Washington State Patrol temporarily replaced its longtime staff psychologist with an outsourced contractor to screen troop candidates.
The switch came about a month after an investigation by the Seattle Times and public radio Northwest News Network documented years of red flags around the agency’s psychological assessments, including recent evidence that they may disproportionately reject skin-colored candidates.
Chief John Baptiste has previously resisted calls for outsourced evaluation, despite repeated concerns raised about the methods of WSP’s staff psychologist over the past 27 years, Daniel Clarke. But in recent weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee and key lawmakers have been pressured to make changes to diversify the WSP.
The new contractor is aligning the WSP with common psychological testing practice, but this change alone cannot diversify the strength. As of last year, WSP military personnel were 87% white and 90% male – a percentage that hasn’t budged in the past two decades, even as the state has become much more diverse and the WSP itself has tried to recruit more colored people. candidates.
Clarke’s psychological testing is a late, key step in the long hiring process. Since Clark’s rejection, candidates have almost never been recruited.
“What has been around for so long and is systemic is not easy to change,” said Rep. Bill Ramos, deputy chairman of the Issaqua board. “We’re just trying to figure out what we can to solve systemic problems.”
In recent weeks, lawmakers have called for Inslee to take action. Ramos said a group of lawmakers demanded a video call from Inslee after the Times article was published. These included members of the House of Representatives and Senate transport committees that oversee the WSP, as well as some of the colored factions in the Legislature.
“It was a job that we did for several years, but it finally just put it on the table for everyone to see.” Ramos said. “We practically went in and said, ‘Look, have you read this article? Do you know what’s going on? “
Inslee, who may appoint and fire the WSP chief, told Batista about his concerns, a governor’s spokesman said. Inslee “encouraged Patrol to do better and explore other options for the hiring process,” spokeswoman Tara Lee said in an email. Baptiste has been a CEO since 2005.
WSP has signed a contract with the Linwood-based Psychological Public Safety Service, which began on October 26 and will run until June 2022. Clark completed previously scheduled exams last week and the new company took over on Monday, a WSP spokesman said.
Meanwhile, WSP is hiring an external auditor to evaluate psychological examinations, a process that is expected to take three to six months. The agency “awaits the results of the audit before making long-term decisions,” said Captain Neil Weaver. Clark remains on payroll and will continue to perform other duties besides the assessment.
Lawmakers also summoned Batista to a Joint Transport Committee hearing, scheduled for November 17. They plan to question him on hiring, including a psychological assessment, said Sen. Steve Hobbs, Dee-Lake Stevens, chairman of the Senate Transport Committee.
Some lawmakers say the change isn’t happening fast enough.
“I think they have to admit that they have a serious problem,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Vege, D-Sequim, who previously questioned Clark’s role. “They don’t need any research … to realize that they have a serious problem and should probably start cleaning the house.”
Clark did not respond to an interview request for this story. He had previously defended his trial and blamed any racial imbalance on the national written tests he conducted.
“I treat everyone as an individual and make my recommendations based on an individual assessment,” Clark said. “Psychologically, I don’t believe bias exists.”
Consultants and internal critics highlighted Clark’s high failure rate and questioned his approach for years. In 2015, the head of human resources at WSP questioned Clark’s methods, including the unusual practice of rejecting candidates based solely on their written tests, but he was rejected by both Clark and Baptiste.
A 2016 legislative report determined that there was a shortage of WSP candidates at the psychological stage, who were later recruited into local departments, while the agency struggled to recruit and retain military personnel. The authors recommended outsourcing some or all of the psychological examinations, but the agency took no action.
Earlier this year, multinational consulting firm Deloitte found that minorities in a recent group of candidates fail far more often than their white counterparts.
Internal data reviewed by The Seattle Times and the Northwest News Network show that psychological testing rejected 20% of white candidates in the four years ending January. In contrast, according to the data, 33% of black candidates, 35% of Hispanic candidates and 41% of Asian candidates were not recommended for employment.
“Each focus group and several key leaders reported bias in the psychological assessment process and recommended that the process be reviewed,” wrote the Deloitte consultants.
“Without the diversity of evaluators, there is no system of appeals or additional opinions. This could be a contributing factor to the high rejection rate for all candidates, especially those of color, ”the consultants said.
Once again, the consultants recommended hiring a new psychologist, but Baptiste has resisted – until now.
The agency is already scheduling assessments with the Psychological Public Safety Service, as WSP hopes to recruit 60 cadets by February, the spokesman said. Weaver said WSP has signed a contract with a single supplier to conduct a psychological assessment, but the work may be open to bidding depending on the results of the audit. The company has previously worked with WSP on other projects.
The Psychological Public Safety Service employs seven psychologists licensed in Washington, DC, said Serise Wablays, one of the company’s owners. It serves over 200 public safety agencies in the Pacific Northwest, including the Seattle Police Department, Bellevue Police Department, and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
“We really want our practice to evolve as the culture of policing develops,” Wablais said.
The company’s process differs from Clarke’s in several key ways. He does not reject candidates based solely on their written tests.
In addition, the firm uses the AF rating scale instead of the three categories that Clarke used: “recommend,” “not recommend,” or “negligible.” One of Clark’s criticisms was that he wielded excessive power at the end of the hiring process and that his rejections were nearly impossible to overcome.