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State Highway Patrol Officer: Education Requirements & Career Info

Learn how to become a state highway patrol officer. Research the job duties and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in law enforcement. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a State Highway Patrol Officer?

State highway patrol officers are sworn law enforcement officers whose primary responsibilities are to ensure the safety and security of people traveling on state highways and roads. They enforce traffic laws, write reports, make arrests, and assist motorists who've been involved in accidents. State highway patrol officers also come to the aid of other first responders.

Highway patrol officers, similar to police officers, usually work full-time, although hours scheduled may be irregular, such as three 12-hour shifts per week, and may include evenings, nights, and/or weekends. There is a higher risk of personal injury or death in this career as patrol officers may interact with criminals, hostile civilians, or other dangerous situations. Officers must be comfortable with and carry firearms. There may be great personal satisfaction in serving the public's needs as a highway patrol officer and individuals employed by state governments generally enjoy competitive salaries, good benefits, and some job security. The median annual salary for police and detectives in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $60,270.

Career Requirements

To become a state highway patrol officer, you'll need at least a high school diploma or GED, but you may be required to have a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. Some states require 1-2 years of work experience or military service. You'll also need strong communication skills and the ability to solve problems quickly and multi-task. Physical stamina and strength, proficiency with crime mapping and database query software, familiarity with firearms, patrol cars, and police radios, and a valid driver's license are also required. In addition, you must pass background checks, drug tests, and psychological exams.

Steps to Become a State Highway Patrol Officer

Let's take a look at the steps you'll need to take to become a state highway patrol officer.

Step 1: Consider Earning an Associate's Degree

Before applying for state highway patrol officer positions, you might want to earn an associate's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement to improve your employment prospects. Some law enforcement agencies prefer candidates who have earned a college degree over those who have only completed high school. Other agencies even allow applicants to use their postsecondary education to meet experience requirements. These associate's degree programs often cover topics in law enforcement, criminology, and corrections in addition to requiring students to complete a general education curriculum.

Take electives in physical education, information technology or a foreign language. Some law enforcement agencies look for candidates who've completed coursework in these areas. These topics of study can help you to learn a second language, hone your computer skills, or improve your physical fitness.

Step 2: Apply for a State Highway Patrol Job

After submitting an initial application, you must typically pass a written civil service exam and a physical fitness test. Background investigations as well as vision and hearing tests are among other common requirements. You could also be asked to undergo interviews, drug screens, polygraph tests, and psychological evaluations before being admitted to an academy training program.

Step 3: Complete an Academy Training Program

If you are selected for hire, you must complete an agency's training academy before you're sworn in as state highway patrol officers. This training could take around 5-7 months to complete and generally includes courses in state and local laws, police ethics, and constitutional law. You'll also undergo physical conditioning and receive intensive emergency medical response, firearms, and self-defense training. You'll also study traffic control and defensive driving techniques.

Step 4: Career Advancement

State highway patrol officers have many opportunities for advancement. In some agencies, an opportunity to advance may come soon after a new hire probationary period is over. State highway patrol officers may advance to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. Advancement may depend on how well the candidate has performed on the job in the past and how well they have scored on written tests. Larger police departments may have more opportunities for their state patrol officers to advance to detective or even allow them to specialize in a particular area of police work.

To become a state highway patrol officer, you may want to earn a college degree to increase job opportunities, but you need a high school diploma and training in the academy.

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