Becoming a state trooper or highway patrol officer can be an excellent way to get into the criminal justice field and protect your community. Both state troopers and highway patrol officers spend most of their time enforcing traffic laws. You may be employed by a highway patrol department or state police department.
Though most of your responsibilities may center around enforcing traffic laws, responding to traffic accidents, and making routine traffic stops, your day may include a variety of other tasks. As a state trooper, you may be expected to respond to emergencies in your vicinity. This may include making reports and offering basic first aid. Those who work as highway patrol officers may have more limited duties. For example, they may be told to call for backup if they anticipate a difficult or dangerous arrest.
To learn how you can become a state trooper or highway patrol officer, contact the schools featured in our directory to compare their programs!
State Trooper Job Description
Protecting the public as a state trooper or highway patrol officer is a calling that requires a strong sense of responsibility, the ability to work independently or as part of a team when needed, and the physical strength to work long shifts. It's unlikely for state troopers to work a standard 40-hour work week or traditional eight-hour shifts. It's more common to work over 40 hours per week in 12-hour or 24-hour shifts. For example, the New York State Police Recruitment Center notes that their troopers work 12-hour days. You should plan on working evenings, late nights, and weekends, especially when you start out.
US News ranks patrol officer as the 12th-best social services occupation, due to its potential for upward mobility and the rewarding nature of the work. Flexibility may serve you well in this career. Though you may have a long list of job duties, you may not do the same things two days in a row. As a highway patrol officer, your main responsibilities will likely be patrolling your appointed routes, looking for dangerous drivers, and administering tickets when it is appropriate. However, you may also need to respond to emergency calls, assist in troublesome arrests, or process paperwork. In 2018, state troopers in Pennsylvania were injured while trying to apprehend a suspect after following him for miles on a high speed chase. Despite their injuries, they were able to arrest the driver.
How to Become a State Trooper
Educational requirements vary widely between states and even individual police departments. Some highway patrol departments and state police departments do not have any education requirements for applicants—they provide on-the-job training to hired personnel. However, there are also employers that require applicants to have at least two years of college experience. It may be preferable to have an Associate's degree in criminal justice. As a state trooper, you may need to train at your area's police academy.
Since hiring and educational requirements vary from state to state, you may wish to consult your state's Department of Public Safety website to find out what exactly is required in your area. For example, state troopers in Texas must have at least 60 college credits from an accredited college or university. The New Hampshire Division of State Police prefers that applicants have an Associate's degree in criminal justice or a similar field. In Texas and several other states, previous military experience or law enforcement experience can be used in place of college credits.
There are often physical health requirements for state troopers and highway patrol officers. The Kentucky State Police require applicants to pass a physical exam that includes a 1.5 mile run, a bench press, sit ups, and pushups.
After making it through the selection process, which includes an in-depth look at your education, a physical exam, and a written exam, you may be hired for a state trooper or highway patrol officer position. However, you'll likely have to complete an intensive training period before you are sworn in as an officer. In the state of Alabama, those who are hired for these positions must attend the Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center. Before you can graduate from this center and begin your career, you must complete at least 800 hours of training.
While completing your training, you may be tested on many different skills and address several learning outcomes. Coursework often covers first aid, emergency response and management, criminal law, pursuit driving, firearms safety, and self-defense tactics. You may be expected to demonstrate growth in the areas of quick thinking, informed decision making, de-escalation of emergency situations, and physical strength. Training often lasts for eight or more hours per day to prepare you for the long shifts that may be required of you in your career.
State Trooper Salary and Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for a highway patrol officer or state trooper $61,050 per year. Salaries in your area may depend on the cost of living in your state. For example, the average salary in Texas in 2017 was $62,430 per year. You may earn more in California, where the average salary is $100,090 per year. Salaries in Illinois and New York are fairly similar; respectively, the average salaries in these states are $73,870 and $73,000 per year.
It's important to note that patrol officers are public employees, so there may be more to your salary than your base income. You may be eligible for a raise after each year of duty, as well as a state-funded pension. Many police departments offer shift and weekend differentials, which may allow you to earn more money if you work nights and weekends. Employers may also offer an education benefit, which increases your hourly wage for each level of education you've completed.
The next step for you is comparing the programs in your area (or online) that can help you prepare for this law enforcement career. Use our free directory to compare multiple programs today!
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