OLYMPIA, Wash. — Since being sworn in as a Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper in 1978, now head of the agency, Chief John Batiste said he has not had to deal with anything close to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, nor the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle in 1999, Batiste said.
“This is the most difficult one, no doubt about it,” said Batiste.
Since the start of the pandemic, Batiste’s agency has responded to countless protests and worked with the Washington National Guard to keep the state Capitol in Olympia secure. Detective Trooper Eric Gunderson died from COVID-19 this fall. And last month, the state patrol fired 127 employees who failed to get vaccinated under the state vaccine mandate. Several of the outgoing troopers recorded resignation speeches on police radios from their WSP cars.
Batiste said it was “very disheartening” for him to see those videos appear on social media.
”Because you’re talking about folks, under ordinary circumstances, I have never seen them act out in that way," said Batiste. "Clearly, it was a very emotional event for them."
Law enforcement agencies around the country have seen employees more reluctant to get vaccinated than other public departments.
Batiste said that is not surprising.
“We’re strong-willed by nature," said Batiste. "We generally hire folks who are very independent because they have to be, to a degree. To run into danger, you have to have a certain possibility to do that, so they’re used to being confronted with dangerous situations."