State Police Agencies

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

Forty-nine states have some type of state police agency; only Hawaii does not. It is ironic that one of the longest running police series on television was also one of the least accurate. From 1968 to 1980, viewers of Hawaii Five-0 followed the exploits of an elite state police unit that targeted organized crime. Although the show was filmed entirely in Hawaii, the state police unit was fictional.

The other 49 states all have a state police agency, but not all such agencies are the same. There are two basic types of state police agencies—fullservice and highway patrol agencies. In these agencies, most officers (generally called troopers in state policing) work primarily in uniform, although both types of agencies have some plainclothes assignments. The third type of state police agency is a state investigative agency in which all officers are assigned to work out of uniform. While the name of the agency often makes plain the jurisdiction of its officers, the name alone may not signify the types of job opportunities that exist.

As of 2004, state police agencies employed about 58,000 full-time sworn personnel, almost 70% of whom were troopers (the entry-level rank). Slightly over 10% were investigators and the remaining almost 20% were supervisory officers. These figures do not include state investigative agencies, but are based solely on either full-service or highway patrol agencies.

Generally, state police agencies have lower percentages of minority men and all women than local police departments and sheriffs' offices. The reasons are complex; some have to do with these groups, particularly women, having a shorter history in this area of law enforcement. Some women are also discouraged by the emphasis on physical skills and fitness. Another reason seems to be the residential training that is conducted primarily in rural portions of the state.

In recent years, state police agencies have made considerable efforts to increase their numbers of women and minority candidates. They are recruiting actively on college campuses, featuring women and minority males on their recruitment teams and on their websites, and generally trying to create a more inviting culture at their academies without diluting their training routines.

Full-Service Agencies

Most state police agencies are categorized as full-service agencies. The largest agencies in this category are also among the oldest, including (in order of size) New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Virginia and Michigan also have state police agencies that employ more than 1,000 officers.

The reason these agencies are termed full-service is straightforward. They have many duties in addition to patrol. They conduct investigations for their own departments and, often, for small, rural police agencies that lack the technical skills for complex investigations. Full-service agencies also maintain their state's criminal records system (similar to the federal Uniformed Crime Reporting Program [UCR] maintained by the FBI), and operate a forensic lab for their own use and use by departments that do not maintain their own labs. In a number of states, though, the crime lab is operated by the state's investigative agency rather than by the uniformed agency.

This is one example of why it is important to learn the range of duties of the agency you are applying to. Particularly at a time when forensics has become one of the fastest-growing college major fields of study, if this is your particular passion it is important for you to understand not only what the jobs in crime labs entail but also which agencies in your area are responsible for providing forensic or crime scene services.

Full-service agencies also generally have canine, emergency, tactical, and airborne units, to name just a few, that are sometimes scattered throughout the state, for use by the agency; they can be requested by smaller agencies whenever their deployment would be appropriate. These agencies generally operate a police academy primarily for their own recruits but often open supervisory, management, and special skills courses to other departments. The existence of an agency academy means that training assignments may be available at some point in your career.

In full-service agencies, many state troopers also have an opportunity to function like local police officers because these state agencies provide all patrol and investigative services for many unincorporated areas and respond to calls for assistance just as local police do. Some also provide contract policing to a number of small communities. Contract policing, which is also done by some sheriffs' offices, means that a community pays a state police or sheriff's office to assign officers to the community to function as its local police force. In some rural areas, a resident trooper or deputy sheriff may be the only law enforcement officer in the area, functioning not only as the area's police officer but in effect as its chief of police.

In addition, once you are employed by a full-service agency, you will have opportunities to become a specialist in a number of regulatory areas, because in addition to varied patrol assignments, full-service agencies have oversight of numerous state licensing requirements. Some of these include licensing of special jurisdiction police and licensing of professions for which states have mandated fingerprinting or licensing to practice. Depending on the individual states, this might include hairdressing and barbering, racehorse ownership or employment as a jockey, ownership of or employment in an establishment that sells alcohol, and various gambling- and/or lotteryrelated employment. Obviously, the more areas for which a state police agency is responsible, the greater the opportunities officers have of developing expertise in specialized enforcement fields.

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