How to Become a State Trooper
So, you saw an episode of CHiPS or Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, and now you think you want to try your hand working for the state police. Or perhaps you've been mesmerized by their cool cars and sharp uniforms, or their generally tough but exceedingly polite demeanor and now you're inspired to become a state trooper. Thousands of people wonder how to become a state trooper, but only a select few get through the process and prove they have what it takes for one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement.
Before you get a chance to put on the that Smokey Bear hat it's going to take a lot of hard work and effort, not only to get hired but to make it all the way through training to your first day on solo patrol. Troopers across the United States have earned a reputation for being tough, fair and courteous. In turn, their hiring and training standards have also become known for some of the most stringent in the nation. If you make the cut, though, you'll have earned a spot among some of the finest police officers and agencies in the country.
Tough Decisions for a Tough Job
Realize this: law enforcement is not for everyone, and certainly not just anyone can be a trooper. While it's true that it takes all kinds of people to make up a successful police force, it is also true that it's not a job for just anyone. Quite often, troopers have it especially tough since they may find themselves working large, rural patrol zones by themselves without any backup close by.
Before you make the commitment to become a trooper, consider the potential hardships and challenges you'll likely face, from the first days of the background investigation process to your last day on patrol. Expect to be yelled at, spit on, hit and even worse. Of course, this won't happen every day, but it's always a concern. A day in the life of a police officer or trooper can be very taxing. Add to that the stresses of long and irregular hours, potential health concerns and other inherent dangers of the job.
With all of that in mind, this is not a career you should enter into lightly.
Keep a Clean Background
If you've done your research and decided that a career as a state trooper is right for you, after all, the next most important thing to do is make sure you're background remains free of blemishes. The importance of staying out of trouble and avoiding problematic behaviors cannot be emphasized enough. Rightly so, all law enforcement officers are held to high ethical standards, and most state police and highway patrols pride themselves on the exemplary behavior they expect their troopers to adhere to.
Avoid using drugs at all, and steer clear of excessive alcohol consumption. State agencies expect that those people who aspire to be troopers will want to set an example for others to follow, and they will not be as tolerant of "youthful indiscretions" as other employers may be.
To become a trooper, you will need to have at least a high school diploma or G.E.D. You'll also need to be a United States citizen and hold a valid driver license, sometimes issued by the state you're applying with. The minimum age may vary from state to state, but will likely be either 19 or 21 years old. Also, most agencies require you to have some prior work experience interacting with the public or that you've spent some time in either the military or college.
In many states, trooper careers are some of the hardest jobs in law enforcement to land. Because of this, meeting the bare minimum requirements won't even come close to getting you hired.
An associate's or bachelor's degree can be just the thing that puts you ahead of your competition. Even if not specifically required, a college education provides useful and even critical skills that you may not get anywhere else. It will help make you a much more attractive candidate for a hiring agency.
Work experience, too, can go a long way toward becoming a competitive trooper candidate. Work in which you've had to deal directly with the public, such as waiting tables, working in customer service, serving as a cashier or in sales can give you great people skills.
State police and highway patrols call their officers "troopers" in part because of their early founders' early connections to the military and in part because of the military discipline and traditions they still employ. Naturally, state troopers place a premium on solid military experience, and veterans often find that state police agencies are a great fit when they transition to civilian life. Specifically, 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.
Apply to Be a Trooper
It may seem a simple step that goes without saying, but completing the application to become a state trooper may be one of the most important stages in the entire process. All too often, small errors on the part of an otherwise well-qualified candidate will get their application sent back or set aside.
Be certain to fill out the application in its entirety and to ensure all relevant blanks are completed and appropriate boxes checked. Be completely honest and, no matter how bad you feel disparaging information may make you look, be sure, to tell the truth about issues like past employment, drug use, and criminal histories. Failing to be forthcoming will get you disqualified faster than almost anything else you can do.
Include all past employers and be truthful when listing the reason for leaving any previous jobs. Also, be sure to answer any application questions about citizenship status or registering for selective service.
Basic Abilities Test
After the application, 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 academy. The purpose of the test is to make sure you have the critical thinking and comprehension skills necessary to work in law enforcement.
The basic abilities test measures skills such as reading, writing, basic arithmetic and spatial orientation. Agencies that give these tests will usually also provide a study guide with sample questions to give you a feel for what to expect on test day.
Physical Abilities Test
Law enforcement can be a physical job, and before you can be hired, agencies need to be certain you're physically capable of carrying out the necessary tasks. To become a trooper, you'll be asked to participate in either a physical assessment or a physical abilities test.
Physical assessments test your strength, speed, and stamina. Based on your age and gender, these types of tests measure the number of push ups 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.
Physical abilities tests, on the other hand, evaluate 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.
Whichever test you must take, you're going to want to get into the best shape possible. If you're not physically where you think you should be, check with your doctor and begin an exercise regimen that will get you there.
Quite possibly the most unnerving step in the hiring process to be a state trooper is the polygraph exam. The test can be grueling, especially for those with a naturally guilty conscience. It's a necessary step, though, to measure a candidate's honesty and integrity.
During the polygraph exam, the candidate is provided a questionnaire booklet that asks for detailed information regarding questions already asked in the employment or supplemental application. These questions are designed to measure your honesty and to make certain there is no problematic issue in your past that should prevent you from becoming a trooper.
Believe it or not, there have been lots of people investigated and even arrested base on information they revealed in the polygraph stage while trying to become law enforcement officers. While that fact shouldn't phase a qualified candidate, it should give you pause if you have any skeletons in your closet you'd like to keep hidden.
The polygraph is an important component of the background investigation, and the results can make or break your chance at a career. As with the initial application, honesty is the name of the game. You are far better off revealing potentially damaging information than to be caught lying.
As has already been discussed, law enforcement careers are not for everyone, and one important tool to help agencies assess a candidate's suitability for the job is the law enforcement psychological exam. Consisting of a battery of personality profiles and other assessment tools, psychologists use the exam to advise state police and highway patrols whether or not an applicant would be a good fit for the job of a state trooper.
The psychological exams given to law enforcement candidates isn't designed to measure an applicant's sanity. Instead, it's set up to determine whether or not you can be successful in a law enforcement career. The exam measures honesty, maturity, intelligence and ability to handle pressure or stress. A licensed psychologist analyzes the results and makes a recommendation to the hiring agency. If you don't make it past the psychological exam, it doesn't mean you're crazy; it just means a job in law enforcement probably isn't for you.
The physical abilities test is one measure of whether or not you're physically capable of doing the job. Overall health, though, is another important factor in determining whether or not you should be hired. Because of the rigors that may be associated with life as a trooper, a full medical pre-employment physical exam will be required to make sure you're healthy enough for a law enforcement career. The physical will include an EKG and blood pressure check. You can also expect an eye exam to test your vision, depth perception and ability to see colors.
State police and highway patrols 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 between 25 and 50 percent. That means up to half of the people who show up for the first day of the academy may not make it to graduation day.
Reasons for leaving the academy vary, but they include rules violations, injuries, and failure to meet the tough academic standards. Making it through the academy will take immense mental and physical toughness.
While the academy may very well be the most mentally, emotionally and physically draining step in the process of becoming a state trooper, it's not over yet. The training doesn't end when the recruits get their badges. There's still several weeks of field training to get through.
During field training, you'll be required to put into practice everything you learned in the academy, and you'll be closely evaluated on how well you do. Just because you graduated, the academy doesn't mean you're guaranteed a job. You'll ride with a field training officer who will show you what it's like to really work in law enforcement and then make a final determination of whether or not you have what it takes to be a trooper.
Is It Worth the Effort
Becoming a state trooper is a long, drawn-out process that can take a year or even longer. Once you've made it, though, you can be assured that you'll be proud of your career choice and the work it took to get you there. In truth, there are few jobs available that are as satisfying as working in law enforcement, and even fewer that can match the pride you'll feel from becoming a state trooper.