Washington State Patrol recruiting troopers
Cadet Aleksandr Ignatov counts how many times a black Honda CRV crosses over the white fog lines on Highway 14 eastbound Thursday night. The 24-year-old learned at the Washington State Patrol academy that if a driver goes over the line two or more times or veers into the shoulder, he has probable cause to pull the car over.
Veteran Trooper Bennie Taylor pointed out the Honda to him.
"He will eventually, through repetition, learn to recognize a DUI weave," Taylor says. One in 10 drivers between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. are impaired, he says.
Ignatov radios dispatch, turns on his flashing red and blue lights and pulls the CRV over. When he approaches the driver, he smells alcohol on her breath. She says she had a few glasses of wine at a dinner party.
On the shoulder of Highway 14, he performs routine sobriety tests: He has the woman follow his penlight with her eyes, walk a straight line with her feet heel to toe and stand on one leg with her arms at her side while counting to 30.
All the while, Taylor gives him pointers and takes notes on his performance. He'll grade Ignatov on a 1-4 scale at the end of the night.
The cadet does everything he's been taught to do in mock DUI setups at the academy in Olympia. He's completed drinking labs where volunteers are given different amounts of alcohol and the cadets have to measure their blood-alcohol concentration, perform the sobriety tests and determine whether they would arrest the driver.
For the last couple of months he's put what he's learned to the test while a senior trooper rides shotgun.
"When you're really doing it in real life it's almost, I would say, an eye-opener," Ignatov said. "Your senses are put to use."
Ignatov is one of 38 cadets looking to graduate Friday from the 100th Basic Training Academy at a ceremony in the state capitol building. His localized field training is part of a statewide hiring push.
Many troopers recruited during the 70s and 80s are entering retirement. With 88 troopers eligible to retire, the State Patrol is rushing to fill the impending vacancies. By the end of the year, 92 can retire, and at the end of 2017, 321 troopers can retire -- almost half of the current force. There are 720 troopers statewide.
As troopers retire, veteran troopers often move to different jobs in the State Patrol or move up in rank, and create even more trooper vacancies, said recruiter Trooper Jason Cuthbert.
"In 25 years, we may run into this problem again," he said.
The State Patrol aims to hire 67 troopers every six months. Before the push, they hired about 40 troopers per year.
Cuthbert became a recruiter in November as part of the state's "decentralized recruiter plan," which puts a recruiter in each of the state's eight geographical districts and allows cadets to work with a trooper in their hometown. Previously, applicants were sent wherever they were needed and WSP had to cover their food and lodging.
Applicants have to be 19½ or older at the time of application, possess a valid driver's license and have a high school diploma or GED. They must pass a written and physical test. About 35 percent of applicants can't pass the physical test, which involves timed push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run.
More than agility, it takes a certain breed and mindset to succeed in the State Patrol.
"It might sound corny, but it really is a calling," Cuthbert said.
The training is paramilitary and often grueling. Cadets are taught a variety of defensive tactics, including how to defend themselves after being pepper-sprayed in the face. It takes about six months to complete basic training.
The tough part is finding qualified applicants.
The State Patrol is looking for people from all backgrounds. When Cuthbert applied more than a decade ago, he had a business degree from Portland State University and was tired of standing behind a counter for work. Experience in retail, for instance, is helpful because troopers work with people all day long (and often get yelled at).
Troopers have to be proactive by patrolling the roadways when they don't have calls to respond to. Traffic stops are one of the more volatile situations troopers encounter.
"There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. Once you start thinking that way, that's when you get hurt," Taylor said.
Of the 38 cadets currently field training -- three in Vancouver -- Taylor said 33 of them will make the cut. Sometimes they just don't have what it takes, need more field training or accept offers at other agencies.
Ignatov was a security guard at the Clark County Courthouse when he heard about the State Patrol's openings and applied.
"The right time came," he said.
He's fluent in three languages: English, Russian and Ukrainian, a valuable skill in Vancouver where he could be used as an interpreter. Ignatov came to the U.S. from Russia as a child, moved to Beaverton, Ore., and then to Vancouver where he graduated from Evergreen High School.
Vancouver is part of District 5, which covers Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties. It's an interesting area to work as a trooper, Cuthbert said, as it includes both rural and metro areasand a state border.
Ignatov, however, will likely start work in Chehalis. He can expect to earn $46,704 annually.
As for that woman, she was taken to WSP headquarters in Vancouver, where she submitted a breath test and was cited for DUI. Later, her son picked her up to take her home. At her mandatory court date, a judge will decide her penalties. He'll look at the outcome of her Breathalyzer, the report Ignatov wrote and listen to what the woman has to say.
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