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.

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 highly 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.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Minimum high school diploma or GED; some agencies prefer or require a higher degree
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement
Experience 1-2 years of work experience or military service is required by some states
Key Skills Strong communication skills and the ability to solve problems quickly, ability to multi-task, physical stamina and strength, proficiency with crime mapping software and database query software, familiarity with firearms, patrol cars, and police radios, valid driver's license, pass background checks, drug tests, and psychological exams
Salary (2014) $59,560 per year (Mean annual salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State government websites, Occupational Information Network.

Step 1: Consider Earning an Associate's Degree

Before applying for state highway patrol officer positions, individuals might want to earn an associate's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement to improve their employment prospects. Some law enforcement agencies prefer candidates who've earned a college degree over those who've 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.

Success Tip:

  • 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 aspiring state highway patrol officers learn a second language, hone their computer skills or improve their physical fitness.

Step 2: Apply for a State Highway Patrol Job

After submitting an initial application, prospective state highway patrol officers 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. Candidates 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

Candidates selected for hire must complete an agency's training academy before they'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. Candidates also undergo physical conditioning and receive intensive emergency medical response, firearms, and self-defense training. They 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.

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