What Does a State Trooper Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
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 by:
- Patrolling assigned neighborhoods and areas, often when trouble is suspected there.
- Responding to calls, both emergencies and non-emergencies.
- Monitoring and controlling traffic, usually on state-owned highways and federal interstates.
- Assisting in crime scene investigation, including gathering and securing evidence, monitoring suspects, and searching buildings and vehicles.
- Making arrests and memorializing 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 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 you at the top of your 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 their troopers with excellent benefits packages, including earlier retirement than other professions.
Education, Training & Certification
Becoming a state trooper is a long, drawn-out process that can take a year or more.
- Education: You'll need at least a high school diploma or GED to become a state trooper. An associate's or bachelor's degree can put you 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 very beneficial.
- Testing/Basic Abilities: You'll likely be required to take a basic abilities test to determine your capacity to do the job and measure your likelihood of success in the police academy. The purpose of the test is to make sure you have the critical thinking and comprehension skills necessary to work in law enforcement.
- Testing/Physical Assessment: Physical assessment tests your strength, speed, and stamina. Based on your age and gender, these types of tests measure the number of pushups and sit-ups you're able to perform, as well as how fast you're able to run 1.5 miles and a 300-yard dash. They may also measure flexibility and your vertical jump.
- Testing/Physical Abilities: The physical abilities test evaluates your 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 you're 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 your honesty and to make sure that there's no problematic issue in your past that should prevent you 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 and 50 percent.
- Field Training: You'll be required to put everything you learned in the academy into practice when you get to this training level. You'll ride with a field training officer who will show you what it's like to really work in law enforcement, then make a final determination of whether or not you have what it takes to be a trooper.
You 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. You can also expect a physical examination that includes an EKG and blood pressure check, and an eye exam to test your vision, depth perception, and your 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 yourself before applying.
- Tirelessness: You'll often find yourself in a position where you must manage your fatigue. You must remain alert and ready to respond in an instant no matter how tired you are.
- Critical-thinking skills: Even though it may not be specifically required, a college education can provide useful and critical skills that you may not get anywhere else.
- Ability to work with others: Work in which you've had to deal directly with the public, such as waiting tables or in sales, can give you great people skills. Many agencies require that you have some prior work experience that involved interacting with the public.
- Overall good health: The overall rigors associated with life as a trooper can be extreme.
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.
This can be a physically challenging career, and it's often stressful and dangerous. Not every civilian will be overjoyed when you turn up at a scene. Expect to be yelled at, spit on, hit, and even worse. (Of course, this won't happen every day.)
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.
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
Before you start applying 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.
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. You can find these organizations by searching sites such as Go Law Enforcement.
Navigate to your state's online site for Police or Public Safety & Corrections. Check the "careers" section to locate job openings. You can also look at job-search resources like 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:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018