Highway Patrol Officer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a highway patrol officer career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a highway patrol officer is right for you.
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A Highway Patrol Officer Career: Pros and Cons

Highway patrol officers travel the roads and highways of a state, patrolling in both urban and remote areas and enforcing laws. Review the pros and cons to determine if being a highway patrol officer is right for you.

Pros of a Highway Patrol Officer Career
Relatively high average salary (about $60,000 per year in 2014)*
Relatively low education requirements (often only a high school diploma or GED)*
Ample opportunities for advancement (either to a higher rank or specialization)*
Many people find the opportunity to serve the community rewarding*

Cons of a Highway Patrol Officer Career
Work can be very dangerous (one of the highest on-job fatality rates)*
Slow job growth is predicted (5% between 2012 and 2022)*
Shift work is required (including nights, weekends and holidays)*
Work can be physically and emotionally demanding*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Highway patrol officers, also called state troopers, share duties with other uniformed officers, and they often assist local agencies, particularly in rural or remote areas where law enforcement resources may be limited. They patrol assigned areas throughout a state, enforce laws, respond to calls for service, arrest suspects, conduct traffic stops and issue citations. They also write reports and, as necessary, testify in court cases.

There are many risks associated with a career as a highway patrol officer, including the dangers of confrontations with criminals and the challenges of working at crime scenes and crash sites. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) law enforcement officers have some of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities. They also risk psychological and physical issues brought on by the demanding nature of the job. Still, many highway patrol officers enjoy the rewards of their work and feel that they have an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

While there is always a need for highway patrol officers, hiring is controlled less by demand for service and more by the limitations of state budgets. Competition for state jobs is often very strong, and employment opportunities vary by state. In general, however, the BLS predicts slow job growth in law enforcement fields, with only 5% growth predicted between 2012 and 2022. For those who are hired, salaries are relatively high; the BLS reported that the median annual salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers was about $57,000, as of May 2014.

Career Skills and Requirements

While most agencies require only a high school diploma or GED to become a highway patrol officer, there are other requirements to keep in mind. Law enforcement officers are typically certified by their state. This generally requires attending an approved police academy and graduating with a certificate of completion. In some cases, prospective highway patrol officers pay for this training on their own and complete it prior to being hired, but at other times the training is paid for by the employer and takes place after the hiring process is complete.

In addition, highway patrol officers are generally required to pass a number of written and physical tests, exams and extensive background checks prior to being accepted for employment. Some departments may also require college coursework related to law enforcement or completion of a relevant degree. Advancement opportunities to positions such as sergeant, lieutenant or captain require an associate's degree, 96 credits or a bachelor's degree, respectively, according to The Princeton Review.

What Employers Are Looking for

Nearly all agencies require highway patrol officers to undergo written, physical, medical and psychological tests as part of the hiring process. In addition, many employers have standard age and citizenship requirements. Below are a few job postings from March 2012 that can provide an idea of the qualifications employers are seeking:

  • A Maine law enforcement agency is hiring state troopers who are at least 21 years of age and who are high school graduates or GED holders. Applicants must have no serious criminal or extensive motor vehicle offenses on their records. They also must meet set physical fitness standards and prescribed vision requirements.
  • A police organization in New Jersey is looking for state police officers who are bright and energetic. Candidates must be between 21 and 35 years of age, must have a valid driver's license and must possess a bachelor's degree or an equivalent combination of schooling and law enforcement or military experience.
  • The Florida highway patrol is seeking state troopers to work anywhere in the state of Florida. All applicants must be at least 19 years of age, possess a valid driver's license, have graduated high school and be willing to work anywhere in the state. Preference is given to candidates with college credits and/or law enforcement or military experience. A physical abilities test, vision test, written test, polygraph, medical exam, psychological exam and background check are also required.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Military experience is a plus, and many potential employers regard military training and service as preferred qualifications. Another option for standing out in the field - particularly for those who live in major metropolitan areas - is serving as a reserve officer. Large departments often have reserve officer programs that are staffed with volunteers who have attended a modified law enforcement academy and have been sworn in as officers. They usually patrol as partners with full-time officers, gaining hands-on experience with law-enforcement tasks.

Enroll in Continuing Education

As you develop your career as a highway patrol officer, continuing education can make you an ideal candidate for advancement in your field. Many agencies offer frequent employer-paid training opportunities in various law-enforcement areas. According to the NYPD, taking these continuing education courses can enhance your abilities and skill. Although it won't necessarily apply to advancement opportunities, taking courses or earning a degree in criminal justice has been found to be beneficial when applying for higher ranks, supervisory positions or specialized fields, according to the District of Columbia police department.

Other Careers to Consider

If the adrenaline rush of a highway patrol officer's career seems right for you but you crave a more stable work environment, consider becoming a corrections officer. Similar to highway patrol officers, corrections officers attend a law enforcement academy and generally only need a high-school-level education, although corrections officers working in federal prisons need a bachelor's degree. They work with criminals, but in a controlled environment, enforcing rules, supervising activities, assisting in rehabilitation and counseling programs, inspecting facilities and reporting on inmate behavior. The job is still dangerous and carries a substantial risk of nonfatal injury, but fatality rates are lower than those of law enforcement officers. According to the BLS, corrections officers earned a median annual salary of about $39,000, as of 2011. Similar to law enforcement, job growth is slow, with the BLS predicting only 5% growth between 2010 and 2020.

On the other hand, if you are attracted to the investigative nature of law enforcement but don't really relish the idea of working directly with criminals, becoming a private investigator could be right for you. Private investigators interview people, gather evidence and information, research using computers and paper-based records, present findings in court, assist law enforcement on cases and conduct surveillance. While many private investigators learn on the job, some positions also require a minimal amount of college coursework. Most states also require private investigators to be licensed, although requirements vary from state to state. Unlike law enforcement, private investigation is a fast-growing field, with the BLS predicting 21% growth between 2010 and 2020. Private investigators also take home a decent wage, with the BLS reporting the 2011 median annual salary for private investigators as being about $44,000.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
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Northcentral University

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  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
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Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management

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Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

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South University

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