Statewide project underway to assess public perception of the Washington State Patrol

If you live in Washington and have been in contact with a member of the Washington State Patrol (WSP) in the last two years, you might be invited to participate in a survey designed to better understand interactions between state troopers and the public.

A Washington State Trooper in uniform takes a license from a man in a white sedan.
Trooper Krantz performing a traffic stop in Washington state. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol)

Washington State University’s Division of Governmental Studies and Services (DGSS) is working with the state patrol to assess how individuals across the state feel about the WSP.

The survey, one piece of a three-phase project, is currently in the field.

“The project has suffered delays because of COVID-19, but includes analysis of five years of traffic stop data, the statewide survey, and plans for focus groups to take place in several communities across Washington,” said Christina Sanders, the DGSS director.

The detailed analysis of data from traffic stops and other WSP interactions over the last five years (2015 – 2019) is near completion.

“DGSS has already submitted a draft report on the data analysis to the WSP, and the final document will be published soon,” said Michael Gaffney, Director of WSU Extension’s Community and Economic Development program unit.

The projects are led by DGSS and involve faculty from DGSS and from the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, with support from Gaffney.

“With the attention to negative interactions between law enforcement and community members across the country, it makes sense for the WSP to want to engage community members in continuing to improve relationships and interactions,” said Sanders.

Sanders said one outcome of the project will be increased ability to adjust internal processes to improve the usability of data the WSP already collects. These changes could assist the WSP with trooper management, how supervisors focus the efforts of troopers on the ground, training needs, as well as streamlining data for more efficient analysis.

“WSP is excited about this work and we are looking forward to reviewing the data,” said WSP Chief John R Batiste. “We do our best to be fair, thoughtful and respectful in every interaction we have with the public but recognize that by the nature of our responsibilities, those interactions can sometimes be strained and stressful.

A woman in a Washington State Patrol uniform monitors her communication device from within a patrol car at night.
A trooper Cadet ride along during a Field Officer training in Washington state. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol)

“This is especially true during these turbulent times. The more we know about how we are being perceived, the better equipped we will be to continuously improve our services to the public.”

DGSS, which started 57 years ago as the outreach arm of WSU’s Department of Political Science, is currently supported by Extension and the College of Arts and Sciences. Over the years DGSS has developed a reputation for applied social science research, Gaffney said.

DGSS has a long-standing relationship with the WSP that first developed in the 1970s, Gaffney said. Since that time, DGSS has worked with the state patrol on several statewide surveys, performed previous traffic stop analyses, and is currently working with the WSP Fire Training Academy to offer fire training courses online.

This project includes $25,000 in funding from the state legislature for the cost of developing a report focused on the long term study of bias in traffic stops, with the state patrol funding the rest.