Though they have a name, state law enforcement officials can’t hire the person chosen as a tribal liaison in Eastern Washington because of a hiring freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington State Patrol hired a tribal liaison for the west side of the state in November. The two new positions, outlined in 2019 legislation led by state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, were created to help address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people and to work with family members when missing persons reports are filed, among other responsibilities.

The pandemic has decimated the state’s economy and finances, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to freeze hiring for positions not related to public safety. It will be in place until further notice, according to information on the state Office of Financial Management.

Patti Gosch was hired in late November for Western Washington as the first full-time tribal liaison in the history of the State Patrol. At the time, officials were still recruiting to fill the Eastern Washington job.

“Our west side tribal liaison ... has been working hard at covering both sides of the state and has made great steps toward building relations within the tribal communities all across Washington,” State Patrol Capt. Neil Weaver said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work hard and look forward to being able to add the east side tribal liaison to the team.”

Gosch, who is part of state patrol’s government and media relations team, had experience working with Native communities as a tribal law enforcement liaison for 20 years. Officials sought candidates with significant experience with Native communities.

The State Patrol conducted interviews for the Eastern Washington job on Feb. 6.

Inslee began cutting millions from the state operating budget in early April and announced a hiring freeze in mid-May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Advocates have been watching the hiring process. It’s unknown exactly how many Indigenous people have gone missing, have been murdered and have died mysteriously on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation.

The Legislature allocated funds for the new tribal liaison positions in 2019. Responsibilities include developing best practices for law enforcement response to missing person reports for indigenous people. They will work with family members when missing person reports are filed, and help include tribal issues as agency policies and plans are developed.

“This work will bridge gaps that have existed between law enforcement and previously underrepresented communities,” State Patrol Chief John Batiste said when Gosch was hired.

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