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Washington State Patrol, criticized for lack of diversity, removes psychologist from hiring decision

The Washington State Patrol permanently stripped its staff psychologist of his power to approve or reject trooper candidates, a role that for nearly 30 years shaped the agency’s ranks.

Under criticism for a lack of progress to diversify the force, WSP Chief John Batiste recently made the long-term shift to an outside contractor for psychological evaluations of candidates.

Lawmakers, frustrated at the lack of progress, are considering legislation, released last week, that would step up oversight of the WSP’s diversity efforts. Today, 86% of troopers are white, a number that has barely budged in two decades even as the state has become more diverse.

In early November, the WSP temporarily removed its longtime staff psychologist, Daniel Clark, from the evaluations following an investigation by The Seattle Times and public radio Northwest News Network. The reporting revealed the psychological exam administered by Clark disproportionately rejected candidates of color in recent years, and that people inside and outside the department had repeatedly warned about his process.

caption:  Photo of Daniel Clark, psychologist for the Washington State Patrol
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Photo of Daniel Clark, psychologist for the Washington State Patrol
Credit: Washington State Patrol

At the time, Clark told the news organizations he didn’t believe there was bias in his approach. Earlier this week he forwarded a request for comment to a WSP spokesperson.

WSP leaders were planning to audit the psychological exam process before deciding on Clark’s future role, but the chief “decided it was time for a clean break,” spokesperson Chris Loftis said in a statement Wednesday. Clark will remain on staff, with a focus on employee wellness and counseling staff following critical incidents.

“There are no ‘light-switch’ solutions that quickly bring significant improvement” to the agency’s lack of diversity and concurrent problem of high trooper vacancies, Loftis said. The WSP is looking to build “long-term trust, and increase the allure of law enforcement as a career — over time — in all communities.”

Democratic state Sen. John Lovick, a retired WSP sergeant, welcomed the news that the agency outsourced its psychological evaluations.

“I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction,” said Lovick, D-Mill Creek.

Another critic of WSP’s hiring practices, state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said in a statement, “It’s reassuring to see the State Patrol abandon what has clearly been a failed practice, I just wish it had happened sooner.”

The latest version of a bill introduced by Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, would require the WSP to work with the newly created state Office of Equity and an independent expert to help the agency achieve its diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

“They need to do better and that’s what I’m proposing here,” Valdez said at a recent hearing.

The legislation would require the WSP to set diversity targets and report progress biannually to the governor and the Legislature. The bill would also create “accountability procedures” such as performance reviews. It includes nearly $1 million of funding to advance the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, including a portion for an outside psychologist.

Valdez’s proposal has the support of both WSP brass and the troopers union.