Trooper Jared Elliott has been flying airplanes ever since he was 15-years-old, and now he’s one of the Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) newest Command Pilots.
Trooper Elliott began his flying career back in 2000, later becoming a commercial airline pilot. However, when the recession hit in 2009, he like many other pilots began looking for a different professional path. He found himself with an opportunity to live out another dream: To become a law enforcement officer.
“I’ve always had a fascination for airplanes,” says Trooper Elliott. Adding, “I was a first generation pilot but my dad’s career as a police officer also had a big influence growing up…the Washington State Patrol gave me an opportunity to blend the two together.”
After patrolling the roads, Trooper Elliott made the switch to the Aviation Unit in 2016. He is now one of only five current troopers to hold a Command Pilot’s position – which means he can now act as pilot in command for any of the WSP’s aircraft.
Sharing the Command Pilot title is Trooper Anson Statema, who earned his new rank shortly after Trooper Elliott. Trooper Statema has been flying airplanes for more than 20 years. He even worked as a flight instructor in Pasco until 2006 when he was hired as a trooper cadet with hopes of one day being a pilot for the WSP.
After graduating with the 94th Trooper Basic class in 2007, Trooper Statema was assigned to Marysville. He worked in the south Snohomish County area until 2016 when he was accepted as a pilot in the Aviation Section. Over those years, Trooper Statema was involved in frequent pursuits, investigated more than 850 collisions, and arrested more than 400 DUI drivers, giving him a good understanding of a road trooper’s job.
A Birds Eye View
The WSP Aviation Unit falls under the agency’s Special Operations Division. In Trooper Elliott’s words, the aircraft serves as a force multiplier— providing additional capabilities for troopers on the ground.
When most people think of the WSP’s aircraft, they picture certified troopers flying the governor, chief, or other government officials around. While that is part of their job description, a lot of their work directly involves law enforcement work.
On any given day, trooper pilots can be called out to do any of the following:
• Pursuit Management
• Suspect containment and searches
• Conduct speed enforcement patrols, DUI & Aggressive Driving
• Metro-Congestion management patrols from the air
• Capture aerial video for property evidence collection, counter drug surveillance, SWAT takedowns, and marijuana eradication
• Survey all-hazards emergency service air operations (floods, oil spills, mudslides, earthquakes, fires, etc.)
• Support local city, county, and federal partners (to include US Navy, USCG, DEA, FBI, ATF, USFS)
• Stolen Vehicle Recovery – LOJACK equipped aircraft
• Fraud and Tax Evasion – Assist fraud and tax evasion investigators
• Overdue missing motorist search – FLIR technology pinpoints hot spots
• Homeland Security overflights-Ferry system.
Sitting in the WSP’s hangar in Olympia, Trooper Elliott recalled a mission where he was working along I-5 in Snohomish County. After another trooper on the ground targeted a motorcyclist going 82 miles per hour in a 60 mile per hour zone. The Aviation Unit was quickly contacted to assist. Trooper Elliott, along with Tactical Flight Officer Trooper Joe McClain, followed the motorcycle and were able to catch him at 147 miles per hour. The motorist tried to hide from troopers but quickly learned he could not outrun the aircraft. Trooper Elliott says this is a perfect example of how aircraft can be an additional tool for troopers on the ground. You can watch the pursuit below.
With the two troopers having their new Command Pilot’s positions, the WSP now has more troopers to lead missions. Trooper Elliott says, “More proficient pilots provide better service.” Trooper Statema adds, “As a trooper and a pilot, I am committed to helping the troopers on the road in any way possible, and understanding what they need is critical…Especially relating to pursuits, we want to try to manage the pursuit from above, to minimize safety risks for motorists and troopers, while still apprehending the suspect.”
While Trooper Elliott and Trooper Statema take on their command pilot roles, the WSP is still actively searching for new pilots. Trooper Elliott explains that there is a pilot shortage across the entire country. For the first time since 1959, the Washington State Patrol is taking on troopers with no flying experience and turning them into pilots.
In years prior, the WSP required any trooper wanting to be a pilot to already hold a commercial pilots license and an instrument rating. Now, due to the shortage, the WSP opened up applications to any trooper and training them to be a commercial-rated pilot. Luckily for the agency, three Command Pilots (including Trooper Elliott and Trooper Statema) are all certified flight instructors. The first group of in-house trained troopers are set to take their first flying exams in the next few months.
Trooper Elliott says in order to be a good pilot, you have to be passionate. “Passion leads to determination and accomplishment.” Talking about the WSP specifically, he notes the opportunities are endless, whether it is in aviation or wherever else you choose to work in the agency. “At the WSP, you can really take your career anywhere you want to go.”