State Police Jobs: Highway Patrol and More

State Police Jobs: Highway Patrol and More

State police officers, troopers, and members of the highway patrol keep our roads safe and help troubled motorists throughout the land. While some focus on handing out citations to vehicle code violators, others may participate in traffic accident and criminal investigations, gather forensic evidence, or patrol interstate commercial vehicles. A small number of troopers fly above crowded highways in helicopters or airplanes.

Each state in the union has its own specific hiring, training, and duty requirements for members of the highway patrol. State trooper positions may have similar on-the-job responsibilities as other police jobs, but there are several distinct functions that are only handled on the state level.

For example, state troopers may be tasked with escorting elected officials on the roads or providing high-visibility security in state buildings. They may be assigned to the capitol police. In some states, troopers can take positions with a state bureau of investigation, investigating cases that lie within state authority such as narcotics, weapons, bomb threats, in-flight fugitives, or civil cases pending within their jurisdiction.

Responsibilities vary, too. In Georgia, troopers oversee licensing of bingo operations within the state. In Michigan, patrollers can volunteer to serve in the Chaplain Corps, providing spiritual support for other officers.

State Trooper Career Specializations and Training

Other in-state law enforcement roles that fall into the purview of state highway patrol officers or troopers include the governor's detail, canine units, anti-terrorism, polygraph units, crime scene investigations, alcohol law enforcement, environmental violations, wildlife, or fraud. State troopers may also draw courthouse duties, serving as bailiffs.

Typically, state troopers' jurisdictions fall to state-owned and occupied buildings, state highways, bridges, tunnels, waterways, parks, or in unincorporated areas where county sheriff or city police agencies have little or no coverage.

Most states in the nation have their own training academies for highway patrol officers or troopers. New recruits may spend upwards of 20 weeks or more training and taking courses in:

  • State laws
  • Incident response
  • High-speed and defensive driving
  • Arrest techniques
  • Self defense
  • Crash-scene investigations
  • Traffic patrol
  • Firearms
  • Speed-enforcement equipment and tactics
  • DUI testing and enforcement techniques
  • Physical fitness training

Each state has specific recruiting requirements for highway patrol applicants. Most states require all applicants to be U.S. citizens, hold a high school diploma (or GED) and a driver's license, have at least 60 college credits, pass a background check (and have no prior felony convictions), and pass polygraph, medical, psychological, vision, hearing, and other physical assessments.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some agencies require partial or full completion of a law enforcement degree. In North Dakota, for example, aspiring state troopers must have an associate's degree and at least two years of work experience to apply. In New York, applicants must have completed 60 course credits from an accredited college or university. In Texas, candidates must have finished 90 semester hours and have previous experience in the military, in a correctional facility, or as a communications operator.

Size Matters

Depending on the state, highway patrol departments may actually have fewer personnel than the largest cities within their borders. There are nearly ten times more police officers in the NYPD than there are state troopers in the state of New York. That means troopers enjoy the benefits of a tight-knit law enforcement community, sharing intelligence and tactics.

Promotions are typically linked to state civil service provisions, with troopers advancing to ranks as corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and major. In 2006, the median salary for state troopers was $52,540, approximately $5,000 higher than average wages paid to members of local law enforcement agencies.

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