What Does a State Trooper Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a state trooper standing on the highway. Text reads:

Jacara / Derek Abella

The hiring and training standards of state troopers are some of the most stringent in the nation. These are law enforcement positions at the state level, rather than the community or local level, adding an additional degree of responsibility to protecting the public, and sometimes more diverse duties. Approximately 807,000 men and women served as state troopers in 2016.

State Trooper Duties & Responsibilities

In addition to meeting these responsibilities at the state level, troopers also sometimes provide support and assistance to local law enforcement units. These duties may include:

  • Patrol assigned neighborhoods and areas when trouble is suspected.
  • Respond to calls for emergency and non-emergency situations.
  • Monitor and control traffic, usually on state-owned highways and federal interstates.
  • Assist in crime scene investigation, gather and secure evidence, monitor suspects, and search buildings and vehicles.
  • Make arrests and record the events and details in written reports.

Troopers must maintain excellent records of all these actions in the event that they must later testify to these incidents and crimes in court. State troopers serve as an important backup for local police in smaller towns and rural areas. They also effectively monitor moving violation activity for large vehicles, such as semi-trucks, that operate on state and interstate highways.

State Trooper Salary

Pay can depend to some extent on a state's fiscal health. These figures are national averages. Additional skills, such as speaking multiple languages, can put a state trooper at the top of the pay grade.

  • Median Annual Salary: $63,380 ($30.47 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $106,090 ($51/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $36,550 ($17.57/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Most states also provide troopers with excellent benefits packages, including earlier retirement than other professions.

Education, Training, & Certification

Becoming a state trooper is a long process that can take a year or more.

  • Education: At least a high school diploma or GED is needed to become a state trooper. An associate's or bachelor's degree can put a candidate ahead of the competition.
  • Experience: States place a premium on military experience, and veterans often find that state police agencies are a great fit when they transition to civilian life. Working as a military police officer or in another law enforcement or security-related field while serving in the armed forces can be beneficial.
  • Testing/Basic Abilities: Candidates are required to take a basic abilities test to determine their capacity to do the job and measure their likelihood of success in the police academy. The purpose of the test is to make sure candidates have the critical thinking and comprehension skills necessary to work in law enforcement.
  • Testing/Physical Assessment: Physical assessment tests strength, speed, and stamina. Based on age and gender, these types of tests measure the number of pushups and sit-ups a candidate is able to perform, as well as how fast they're able to run 1.5 miles and a 300-yard dash. They may also measure flexibility and vertical jump.
  • Testing/Physical Abilities: The physical abilities test evaluates the ability to perform certain job-related tasks, such as running, climbing a wall, dragging a weighted dummy, and getting into and out of a patrol car. These tests often have a time limit that is universal regardless of age or gender. The physical abilities test is one measure of whether a candidate is physically capable of doing the job.
  • Testing/Psychological Exam: The law enforcement psychological exam consists of a battery of personality profiles and other assessment tools. Psychologists use the exam to advise state police and highway patrols whether an applicant would be a good fit for the job. The exam measures honesty, maturity, intelligence, and ability to handle pressure or stress.
  • Background Investigations: The most unnerving step in the hiring process to be a state trooper might be the polygraph exam. The questions are designed to measure honesty and to make sure that there's no problematic issue in a candidate's past that should prevent them from becoming a trooper.
  • Academy Training: State police units traditionally hold the toughest and most comprehensive training academies around. Some states boast a wash-out rate—the number of people who start the academy but can't finish—of 25% to 50%.
  • Field Training: Candidates are required to put everything they learned in the academy into practice when they get to this training level. They ride with a field training officer who shows them what it's like to work in law enforcement, then makes a final determination of whether or not they have what it takes to be a trooper.

    Applicants must also be a U.S. citizen and hold a valid driver's license. The minimum age for state troopers can vary from state to state, but it's typically either 19 or 21 years old. Other tests include a physical examination that includes an EKG and blood pressure check and an eye exam to test vision, depth perception, and the ability to see colors.

    State Trooper Skills & Competencies

    Not all necessary skills for becoming a state trooper are taught in training. Some are inherent or are traits you can develop before applying.

    • Tirelessness: Troopers are often in a position where they must manage fatigue. They must remain alert and ready to respond in an instant no matter how tired they are.
    • Critical-thinking skills: Even though it may not be specifically required, a college education can provide useful critical-thinking skills that a trooper may not get anywhere else.
    • Ability to work with others: Experience dealing with the public, such as waiting tables or in sales, can build great people skills. Many agencies require some prior work experience that involves interacting with the public.
    • Overall good health: The overall rigors associated with life as a trooper can be extreme.

    Job Outlook

    Employment in police service, in general, is expected to increase by about 7% from 2016 through 2026. This is average and matches the 7% growth expected for all occupations. Public safety will always be an issue, and this job will always be vital as crime rates fluctuate due to various factors.

    Individual states' population growth or decline can affect the number of jobs available, however.

    Work Environment

    This can be a physically challenging career, and it's often stressful and dangerous. Not every civilian is overjoyed when a trooper turns up at a scene. Expect to be yelled at, spit on, hit, and even worse.

    Potential health concerns and other inherent dangers are associated with the job as well. The illness and injury rates in this profession are among the highest of any career. Dealing daily with the misfortune of others and untimely deaths can be particularly stressful and affect troopers emotionally as well.

    Work Schedule

    This is almost always full-time work, and it can include long and irregular hours. Shift work is common because state police forces can't turn out the lights and call it a night at the end of a long day, leaving the public unprotected.

    How to Get the Job

    PREPARE

    Before you apply for state trooper jobs, get your cover letter and resume in order. Review and update your education, work and volunteer experience, and any skills that may be applicable to the job.

    A state trooper job requires good physical fitness, and you must live or plan to be living in the county of employment before your job's start date.

    NETWORK

    Meet others working as state troopers and police officers by attending events organized by industry associations. Many of these organizations also list job openings on their websites and some may also offer scholarships. Find these organizations by searching sites such as Go Law Enforcement.

    APPLY

    Navigate to your state's online site for Police or Public Safety & Corrections. Check the careers section to locate job openings. Look at job search resources such as Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Several other occupations are geared toward public safety and law enforcement as well, including:

    • Correctional Officer: $44,400
    • Emergency Management Director: $74,420
    • Firefighter: $49,620

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

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