What is a State Trooper:
Job Description for Highway Patrol and State Police


All fifty states have some type of state-wide law enforcement agency and most have several. These organizations are typically assigned to specific areas of law enforcement, including major crimes, investigations and traffic.  One of the most important and visible of these agencies is the state police, whose members often adopt the title of trooper.

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State troopers originated shortly after the establishment of the roadway systems in most states, and their initial responsibilities included enforcement of federal, state and local traffic laws.  These laws are relatively uniform throughout the country but may involve slight regional and state differences including speed limits, helmet laws, or right of way procedures involving emergency and accident response teams.  State troopers are also responsible for enforcing specific nation-wide statutes that pertain to interstate commerce including operating weigh stations for semi-trailers transporting goods across state lines.

Job Descriptions Specific to Divisions within State Police and Highway Patrol

While the primary duty of most state troopers is to ensure the safe operation of motor vehicles, they are also charged with a number of other responsibilities in most states.  The most common divisions within state police include:

Traffic Enforcement—These troopers are readily visible to most drivers as they perform their duties in clearly marked cars and motorcycles. Troopers in this division are responsible for producing tickets for traffic violations, managing accidents and directing traffic when inclement weather requires it.

In most state police departments, traffic is the starting point for careers, with two to three years required before promotion or transfer to more demanding state trooper jobs.

Criminal Investigations—Most state troopers serve as primary criminal investigators or as support for other law enforcement officers when they conduct investigations.  Many state police organizations operate their own laboratories so they can process and analyze materials and evidence found at a crime scene.

Many state troopers can receive promotion into an investigative division following a period in traffic enforcement.  These promotions often merit a higher rank and an increase in salary.

Tactical Units—This elite group of state troopers exhibit the highest physical and mental qualifications.  The troopers who join this select group of exceptional law enforcement officers must usually endure a grueling selection process and complete an intensive training program that instills mastery of exclusive weapons, equipment, vehicles and tactical response procedures.  In many states the tactical units are often called upon to respond to hostage situations, bomb threats and other high-risk situations.

Narcotics Enforcement—Illegal substances and their trafficking present significant threats to public safety.  Not only are users of narcotics and alcohol capable of serious harm to others through their use of motor vehicles and the criminal activity related to drug use, but drug dealers and transporters are usually hardened criminals who pose the threat of violence to the public and law enforcement personnel.

Counterterrorism—As state-wide law enforcement organizations, the state police are the natural recipients of enhanced training and resources needed to respond to a terrorist threat or attack.  In some states, the counterterrorism responsibilities may be relegated to a specialized unit that may perform other duties when not acting as a CT officer.

The most common integration is with SWAT or tactical units, but some organizations may provide specialized training to a more diverse group of personnel, especially if their state presents a number of potential targets for terrorists.

Computer Crime—The use of computers to conduct or manage criminal activity has become so endemic that most state police organizations hire their own digital forensic professionals.  These investigators usually work with state and federal forensic laboratories to recover data from computers, mobile devices, security equipment, and data storage media.

Computer crime specialists may provide critical support in major criminal investigations or they may take up the primary investigative position in cases where a criminal action was performed using an information system like corporate espionage, child pornography or internet fraud.

Canine Unit—The use of canines has been adopted by many state police organizations to assist in the detection of narcotics, human smuggling and missing persons recovery.  This is a demanding specialization for the select state troopers who enter the K-9 programs. These training programs can be challenging; requiring several weeks or months to complete with periodic instruction required throughout.

Canine officers are usually bonded with their canine for life, and the dog typically serves as a constant companion.

Gang/Organized Crime—Some states may have devoted resources to combatting transnational or local gangs as well as criminal organizations.  In cases where the organization has resources outside the state, these trooper units may work closely with other state police organizations or federal authorities. Gang units specialize in infiltrating these organizations, subverting existing members or conducting sophisticated surveillance operations.

This type of work is usually extremely challenging as these criminals are highly prone to violence.

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