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Become a State Police Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a state police officer. Research the education, training, information and experience required for starting a career in law enforcement.

Should I Become a State Police Officer?

State police officers may also be known as state troopers or highway patrol officers. They are responsible for enforcing laws, issuing citations, and responding to accidents or emergencies. Their duties are similar to those of other law enforcement professionals except they spend most of their time patrolling and enforcing laws on state highways.

State police officers have a higher-than-average rate of on-the-job injury. They must constantly put themselves in the line of danger when pursuing suspects on roadways. Though the job is stressful and can include overtime or irregular work hours, many police officers find helping communities and saving lives rewarding. These professionals also tend to make a salary that is higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Requirements

Degree Level No degree is usually required, although some college coursework or an associate's degree may be beneficial
Degree Field Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, Administration of Justice
Training Police training academy required
Experience Entry-level, usually no experience is necessary. A background in the military may be helpful
Key Skills Strong written and oral communication skills, solid judgment, excellent physical strength and stamina; U.S. citizen, 21 years of age or older (some states have an age cap for new applicants), possess a valid driver's license; residency requirements vary by state; some states have specific vision and hearing requirements; most states require background checks and drug testing
Salary (May 2014) $27.31/hour or $56,810/year (median salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Fulfill Education Requirements

The educational requirements needed to become a police officer may vary by state or agency. While police agencies typically accept applicants with a high school diploma or GED, some may require a particular amount of college credits, the completion of specific college courses or a degree. Interested students can find associate's degree programs in criminal justice or administration of justice. Courses in these programs cover topics in criminal law, corrections, juvenile justice, criminal investigation and police management. Graduation from an agency training program is typically required as well.

Success Tips:

  • Learn a foreign language. State police officers assist a variety of people who may speak languages other than English. Taking classes to learn a foreign language in high school or college can be beneficial when communicating with citizens in the community.
  • Develop strong communication skills. Concentrate on taking English, communication and writing classes in high school or college. Individuals pursuing a career as a state police officer must have the ability to communicate calmly and effectively in high-stress situations.

Step 2: Build Physical Fitness

Because of the rigorous nature of law enforcement, state police officers must be in good physical shape. Each state requires applicants to meet certain physical fitness requirements. Most aspiring state police officers will need to pass a physical fitness exam. The physical fitness exam may include a timed push-up test, sit-up test and at least a mile run. Some states may include additional testing, which could require applicants to complete flexibility tests, maximum weight bench presses, or trigger pulling exercises.

Success Tip:

  • Get in shape. To prepare for this exam, individuals hoping to become state police officers can do stretching exercises to increase flexibility, weight lifting to improve strength and running to increase stamina. General cardiovascular exercises can also help increase endurance.

Step 3: Complete Application Process

Potential state police officers must complete an extensive application process before entering training. Commonly, aspiring officers complete a written examination, criminal background check and an oral examination, in addition to the physical fitness test.

Success Tip:

  • Be a presence in your community. A portion of the background check may involve contacting the neighbors of the aspiring state police officer. Making oneself known as a helpful, involved person not only gives neighbors a positive view of the aspiring police offer, but it also helps the individual improve on a personal level.

Step 4: Participate in Training

After the application has been submitted and tests are passed, future state police officers must participate in an extensive training, which can last 5-6 months. Training typically consists of physical and academic education. During the training, students learn about traffic operations, civil law, and arrest techniques. Training in pursuit driving and accident investigation are commonly covered as well. Students will also learn how and when to use handcuffs and batons. These programs teach students to use firearms safely through hands-on training at firing ranges. Some academy programs require students to live on campus during the training period.

Step 5: Complete Probationary Period

After a probationary period (length of this period varies by state), police officers are typically eligible for promotion. Possible promotions may include corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. Typically, those eligible for promotions are ranked by scores on written tests and on-the-job performance. Some departments may advance police officers to positions such as detective.

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