State Trooper

State Troopers are specialized officers who work to ensure public safety and enforce the laws of the road on state and federal roadways, highways, and freeways. A state trooper is also periodically called upon to assist local police jurisdictions. Also known as highway patrol officers, state troopers spend a majority of their time patrolling freeways and interstate highways to enforce motor vehicle laws, maintain order within their territory, and to ensure the health, safety and general welfare of state inhabitants. They have police powers that give them the authority to make arrests and regulate behavior that threatens public health and safety. Their duties vary depending on the needs of the area where they serve, but their general responsibilities involve issuing traffic citations, responding to accidents, helping drivers in emergencies, pursuing offenders fleeing from local law enforcement, and enforcing local, state, and federal laws.

What Is a State Trooper?

A state trooper is a law enforcement officer dedicated to keeping highways and freeways safe and enforcing the laws of the road. They are typically granted specific authority to enforce laws on state roads and other state property, unlike state police who are granted general authority to enforce the law anywhere across the state when necessary.

State troopers cite people who are breaking the law, respond to accidents, investigate car crashes, write reports on their citations and responses, and occasionally testify in court. State troopers are also tasked with educating the public in car and truck safety and enforcing laws regarding large semi-trucks and other shipping vehicles. In some areas where there is a small police force, state troopers may also be called in to provide assistance to local police officers. For example, Alaska state troopers are occasionally called upon to support the state department of fish and wildlife when a wild animal must be captured or contained to prevent any danger to the public.

State Trooper Duties & Responsibilities

First and foremost, a state trooper is a law enforcement officer. Just like their counterparts in state and local police, state troopers are charged with enforcing laws and promoting public safety. The primary difference between a police officer and a state trooper is that a state trooper operates with a narrow jurisdiction – roadways. The scope of their authority, on an ordinary basis, is limited to enforcing the traffic laws of interstate highways and state-owned roads for motorists.  Other responsibilities include making arrests, conducting investigations, performing vehicle searches and seizures, assisting crime scene investigations, and monitoring suspects.

Important Skills & Competencies

Being tasked with a diverse set of responsibilities means that working as a state trooper is a demanding job. Some skills and competencies are considered must-haves for a state trooper position, including:

Mental Endurance

Troopers often work long shifts and are subjected to intense situations – sometimes with few breaks. They must be able to hold up to the stress and stay prepared to respond in a moment’s notice.

Team-Oriented

Effective enforcement of the law requires strong communication skills and the ability to connect with other team members.

Problem-Solving Abilities

State troopers often have to think like detectives to determine what happened at the scene of an accident. They must be good critical thinkers and have the ability to solve tough problems.

Good Physical Health

State troopers must stay in optimum physical condition to remain capable of apprehending suspects and offenders.

Compassion

It sounds strange that a state trooper would need compassion. After all, they are police officers and need to be tough, right? In reality, state troopers are the first responders when people are in car or truck accidents. Even if the person driving was at fault, a state trooper must have the ability to help them remain calm, attend to any life-threatening injuries, and keep them safe until paramedics arrive.

Strong Stomach

As long as we're talking about accident scenes, state troopers will sometimes be the first on the scene of gruesome accidents. If they are to perform their job to keep the victims and other people traveling on the roads safe, they must be able to keep their stomach from revolting.

Intelligence

Police officers need to be able to make adjustments on the fly. State troopers are no exception. If they are to follow policies and procedures while maintaining public safety, they will need to know when to follow the book and when to improvise within the bounds of the law. This takes a tremendous amount of intelligence.

Courage

Like all law enforcement officers, state troopers must be courageous. Whether they are pulling over a suspect or in a high-speed chase, state troopers cannot run away from danger. They must run (or drive) toward it.

A Drive for Excellence

Since state troopers are members of the state police force, they must be willing to put in the work to achieve excellence. The magic formula for becoming a state trooper is simple - hard work. The magic formula for being an exceptional state trooper is the same.

Minimum Requirements to Be a State Trooper

For state troopers, “Service with Humility” is more than just a slogan. State patrol troopers must have a desire to serve and make a difference in their communities every day. Patrolling the public roadways makes state troopers the most visible representation of their agency. As a result, the state trooper position requires meeting stringent requirements. The minimum requirements to apply for a job as a state trooper vary from state to state, but some are relatively consistent across every state.

United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident

All states require state troopers to be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Age Requirement

The age requirements for applicants differ among the states. Generally, the minimum age is at least 19 or 21. In New York state, applicants must be at least 20 years old by the deadline stated on the application form, and they cannot have reached their 30th birthday by that same date. If you have active-duty experience in the United States military, the agency may extend the maximum age by one year for each year of full-time military service. On the other hand, in Texas, applicants of any age can apply.

No Record of Felonies or DUIs

You must be of good moral character with a passion for helping others and have no felonies or DUIs on your record.

Valid Driver’s License

Like most law enforcement officers, state troopers spend a lot of time driving. Every state expects you to have a valid driver’s license to work as a state trooper. Some states, such as North Carolina, also require you to have experience behind the wheel for a certain amount of time.

Law Enforcement, Military, or Public Contact Experience

Most states want you to have a specific amount of work experience before they will consider you as an applicant. Generally, you can expect to need either a full year of experience working as a law enforcement officer, either non-sworn or sworn, or at least two years of experience in a position that required regular contact with the public.

Vision and Hearing

Applicants need 20/30 vision with or without corrective lenses and a normal ability to distinguish color. Visual disabilities that cannot be accommodated can lead to disqualification. Candidates also must meet specific hearing requirements.

Physical Fitness

You must be able to pass a physical fitness test. In many states, the minimum physical fitness standards are established by the Cooper Institute. You typically will be assessed in your ability to complete push-ups and sit-ups, run 1.5 miles, and complete flexibility tasks, all of which are based on your age and gender. In some states, such as Vermont, you also must be able to bench press a specific weight.

Automatic Employment Disqualifiers

Law enforcement agencies must maintain certain standards, and state trooper agencies are no exception. Some disqualifying factors include:

Inability to Meet Minimum Requirements

If you can’t meet the minimum requirements, your application will be denied. For example, in some states, you can be immediately disqualified if you don’t have a high school diploma or valid driver’s license, cannot read or write the English language, won’t submit to a background check or a polygraph, or refuse to move to the state where you are assigned.

Conviction of a Felony, Domestic Violence Misdemeanor, or a More Serious Offense

Whether you are applying for a job as a police officer, a state trooper, or any other type of law enforcement career, you can generally expect to be denied if you have a felony conviction. State trooper jobs also are not available to those with domestic violence convictions or other serious offenses, such as fraud, assault/battery, stalking, resisting arrest, passing worthless checks or debit cards, loitering, prowling, credit delinquency above a specific amount, and failure to register with the United States Selective Service System (if male, although exceptions apply in some cases). In addition, if you have willingly engaged in activities designed to overthrow the U.S. government, you will be automatically disqualified.

Use of Drugs and Failure to Pass an Official Drug Test

Every candidate entering law enforcement must pass an official drug test. In some states, the use of any prohibited substances within one year of your application date will result in disqualification. If you fail an alcohol and drug urinalysis exam, your application will almost certainly be rejected.

Dishonorable Discharge From Military Service

While military service with an honorable discharge can give you a leg up as an applicant, a dishonorable discharge generally disqualifies you immediately.

Previous Gang Affiliations

Applicants with past gang affiliations are unlikely to be considered for state trooper positions. In addition, possessing gang tattoos can also mean you won’t be hired.

Poor Work History

State trooper agencies, like other employers, are looking for applicants with a good work history. If your previous work experience is spotty or you have been fired a number of times, you may be turned down.

Failure of a Polygraph or Psychological Examination

Applicants may be subjected to a polygraph and a psychological evaluation.

Tattoos and Piercings

Most state police agencies do not allow troopers to have tattoos on their face, neck, hands, fingers, or wrists. Tattoos on the back and arm and other areas are allowed if they are covered completely. Visible body piercings and other body art are usually prohibited as well.

How to Become a State Trooper

A job as a state trooper is a career of action and service. If you feel a calling to serve your community, enforce the law, and ensure public safety, a job as a state trooper may be right for you. The hiring process for a state trooper job is comprehensive and lengthy in every state. Be prepared to provide personal details going back 10 years or more. You will have to meet high expectations and pay close attention to all the details as you go through the application process. Successful applicants must be able to follow instructions, adhere to due dates and timelines, and notify the recruitment office if any of your information changes during the hiring process.

1. Meet all Minimum Requirements

2. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university will help you find employment as a state trooper. While not all state trooper jobs require a college degree, having one can help you earn preference during the hiring process. Simply being able to earn a college education demonstrates your critical-thinking abilities and problem-solving skills.

Best Degree Options for State Troopers

Criminal Justice

During your studies for a criminal justice degree, you will learn the various disciplines related to law enforcement, including law, crime, and psychology. Criminal justice courses help provide a solid foundation for your work as a state trooper and make you more appealing as an applicant.

Behavioral Science

As a behavioral science major, you will learn how human interactions shape individuals and society. In your coursework, you will learn how social science and natural science intersect, so you can better understand human behavior.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is an obvious major for a potential state trooper or police officer to pursue. Your coursework will teach you the fundamentals of law enforcement and police work.

Criminology

While studying for a degree in criminology, you’ll learn about crime, including the causes of criminal behavior, how to fight crime, and what is going on in the minds of criminals. You will study the history of the criminal justice system, forensic science, and investigation skills, among other topics.

Legal Studies

Legal studies are beneficial for a potential state trooper. A thorough understanding of how the law works and why it operates as it does helps prepare you to enforce the law.

Forensic Science

Forensic science is a study of the science involved in the investigative process. Your forensic science degree provides you with a strong background in the sciences that will help you become an effective investigator and trooper. It will also prepare you to work with police and detectives during investigations.

3. Apply for an Open Position With the State Police

Your first step in the application process is to complete the application, which is probably on your state government website’s hiring portal.

4. Pass the Physical Abilities Test

If according to your state’s guidelines, you meet all the basic eligibility requirements and have none of the disqualifying factors, your state may ask you to complete the Physical Abilities Test (PAT), a test of your general fitness level. The physical test is designed to determine if you will be able to complete the physical tasks routinely required of the job. In the physical agility test, your basic body composition, cardiovascular ability, fine motor skills, hand/eye coordination, endurance level, strength, and flexibility will all be measured.

5. Pass a Written Exam

The written portion of the hiring process determines if applicants have the foundational skills necessary to perform the work of a state trooper. The written exam tests your basic spelling, grammar, reading, analytical, and math skills. Part of being a law enforcement officer is preparing written reports, so your ability to write a legible report is a critical skill. In most states, a passing score on the test is 70% or better. Many state police departments have a study guide available to help you prepare for the test.

6. Complete an On-Site Interview

Now is your chance to show off your people skills. You will be interviewed by staff from Human Resources along with experienced state troopers. Prepare for the interview by completing role-play activities, finding some behavioral questions online, and practicing your answers by delivering them out loud. You will be asked behavioral-based questions, and scores are based, not only on the quality of your answers but also on how well you deliver those answers. The interview usually lasts about 45 minutes.

7. Pass a Polygraph Screening

If you’ve been successful in the physical and interview portions of the testing process, you will be required to take a comprehensive polygraph examination conducted by an experienced examiner. Topics may include your criminal activity, any inappropriate behaviors, your drug use, and your honesty on the application.

8. Pass a Background Investigation

The next step is to complete a background investigation. Your background will be investigated for offenses such as felony convictions and other disqualifying factors. You will be asked to authorize access to a variety of records, including your educational, financial, criminal history, and employment. Your friends, neighbors, family members, and work associates may all be interviewed.

9. Successfully Complete the State Trooper Training Academy

Recruits who meet all of the requirements to become a state trooper and pass the initial screening assessments are invited to the state trooper training academy, where they will be challenged mentally, physically, and academically to ensure their readiness for the job. Training consists of approximately 24 to 28 weeks of rigorous physical training and classroom learning.

Training Format, Standards, and Curriculum

Training is conducted in a variety of formats that resemble a paramilitary setting, where strict attention to detail, teamwork, professionalism, and ethical decision making is emphasized. Recruits will experience classroom lectures and discussion groups where they complete practical exercises to help them learn basic concepts and knowledge. Recruits will also participate in simulated law enforcement scenarios that are designed to closely resemble real-world situations. Scenarios require recruits to demonstrate the skills they have learned and helps them build the personal strength and self-confidence needed to be successful when they transition out of a training environment.

Academic training is accompanied by rigorous physical training, consisting of muscular strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance exercises. Physical conditioning is designed to prepare recruits for the rigors of the job, so every recruit is required to take and pass physical training tests that demonstrate their physical readiness. Endurance running and bodyweight resistance exercises are a large part of the training program.

10. Receive a Conditional Employment Offer

After the training academy, applicants typically receive an employment offer. Review your offer carefully, express any concerns, and get ready for placement.

11. Placement

You will be placed where troopers are needed most in your state. You may be required to move from your city or county of residence to meet those needs.

State Trooper Salary & Employment Outlook

State Trooper Starting Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups state troopers in the same category as police and detectives, police troopers, and highway patrol officers. The BLS reported an average salary of $65,400 for the year 2018. Jobs for state troopers are projected to grow 7 percent through 2026, which is about average for all jobs.

Wages differ from state to state. As recruits, Alaska state troopers earn a base rate before differential wages are added for geographic location, shift, or premium pay, of $34.98 an hour, or almost $73,000 a year. In Tennessee, on the other hand, entry-level troopers earn only $3,153 per month, or around $38,000 a year. In New York state (where they’re part of the state police force), state troopers earn an annual basic salary of $57,297 even during their academy training. PayScale reports an average salary of $53,920 nationwide, with the opportunity to earn bonuses and profit-sharing even during the first year of service in many states.

Employment Benefits

Benefits differ from state to state, but troopers usually receive generous retirement benefits; paid vacation; holiday time; education incentives; paid sick leave, health, dental, and vision insurance; training classes; and a credit union. Agencies provide your uniform and all your equipment, including your firearm and your patrol car.