What’s the Hardest Part of Being a Trooper?

Every day of the year, Troopers in the Washington State Patrol work hard to protect and serve travelers on the state’s roads and highways. Troopers rely on their training, their best judgment, and their fellow officers in their never-ending quest to help everyone arrive safe at home at the end of the day.

For Washington State Patrol Trooper Shaneka Phillips, that’s exactly what she loves most about the job. She “loves people, I’m a very people person.” Her job as a Trooper lets her interact with dozens of different people, in an endless variety of situations, every single day. From fender benders and blown-out tires to serious accident response and conflict de-escalation, she’s experienced it all.

Save a Life Through Empathy and Connection

One of the toughest moments in Trooper Phillips’ early career was when she responded to an urgent call at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. A woman was hanging from the cable barriers – ready to jump into the deep chasm below.

Obviously in deep distress, the woman was convinced no one cared about her, and she was prepared to end her own life. Trooper Phillips and other emergency responders called out to her, connecting with her emotionally and helping her realize that people do care. After hours of talking with her, the woman agreed to climb off the bridge and back to safety.

Trooper Phillips remembers that day vividly. “It took everything we had, but we talked her down.”

Help People Through the Toughest Day in Their Lives

“You’ve always got to remember – my main job is to help people.”

Handling collisions is one of the most common incidents for Troopers. Trooper Phillips estimates that she responds to two or three every day. But for the people involved in those collisions, it’s a different story. They’ve likely never been in a collision before, and the experience can be shocking and traumatic.

She came to appreciate just how traumatic it is for those involved very early in her career, when she was called to the scene of a deadly shuttle bus crash. The vehicle had been carrying soldiers returning from Afghanistan when it crashed into the median along I-5. When she arrived at the scene, though, the professional instantly became personal: her boyfriend was one of the injured passengers on the bus. He was in critical condition.

“My heart stopped,” when she learned. She rushed to the hospital, thankful that he was still alive. (One of the other passengers, a returning soldier, had been killed.)

Her boyfriend eventually made a full recovery, but Trooper Phillips never forgot how that moment of shock felt. She thinks that experience helps her connect emotionally now with people involved in collisions.

“You don’t think about responding to a collision scene with someone you know,” Phillips recalls, “but traumatic events [like that] help me better understand what other people are going through.”

Help Kids, Help Communities

Thankfully, high-pressure incidents are rare. And they’re more than offset by the many positive, community-building activities that the State Patrol participates in.

In her time as a WSP Trooper, Phillips has helped in a Special Olympics fundraiser, participated in drunken driving simulations at area high schools, and handed out holiday gifts to low-income elementary students.

Being able to serve as such a positive influence on kids and families in her community is exciting and rewarding, Phillips says, and just one of the many things she loves about her job.

If you’re ready to step up, become a leader and protect your community, visit TrooperStories.com to learn more and apply to be a Trooper today.

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