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What does a State Police Officer do?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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A state police officer can provide a number of different functions, depending on the training and assignment given. While most individuals may think of state law enforcement as not doing much more than running speed control, this is an inaccurate perception. While this is one highly visible aspect of what a state police officer may do, there are other jobs within state law enforcement as well.

A state police officer is often referred to as a highway patrol officer. In some cases, they are also called state troopers. However, it is important to note this is just one division of state law enforcement. As many people are aware, the police officers serving in this capacity are often responsible for checking speed and patrolling highways. However, they can also respond to criminal calls and work accident scenes.

In fact, in many states, a state police officer is the preferred person to lead an accident investigation. Often, a state patrol will assign a person who has had experience and training in technical accident investigations to help, especially if there are conflicting stories or if there are no survivors. This person is responsible for gathering evidence and recreating the scene as best he or she can to see what were the contributing factors to the accident and exactly what happened and when.

Another aspect of state police officer work may be with a state division of criminal investigation. This agency employs a number of officers, who have all the rights and responsibilities as other officers, but usually work as detectives in criminal investigations. Often, the state division of criminal investigation will be called in when a case becomes so complex, or is expected to become so complex, that it would strain the resources of a local police department.

In many instances, cases worked by a state division of criminal investigation become very high profile cases, at least locally. Some will even garner state or national attention if the facts of the case are unusual or if there is a special human interest story in the mystery. In addition to detectives, the state division of criminal investigations will usually have access to a high-tech crime lab and public relations professionals who deal with media inquiries.

Whether it is a local cop or state police officer, all have charged primarily with the same primary duty -- that of keeping the peace. While each section of law enforcement, at the local level or the state level, may have slightly different functions and ways of operating, that primary duty remains the same. Those interested in law enforcement should check out each variation and see what interests them the most.

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Discussion Comments

By anon235064 — On Dec 15, 2011

Can a trooper, whether he was involved in the arrest or not, take it upon himself to notify the employer of the person arrested before the individual even gets to appear in court or without giving details on the arrest? This occurred and got me suspended from my job before I was even able to go before the judge.

By Comparables — On Nov 14, 2010

@ amphibious54- The decision over who has jurisdiction is usually based on the scope of the case, the area of investigation, and the capabilities of individual departments. That being said, a lot relies on courtesy between departments. State police are not likely to investigate a single home invasion, unless they can tie it to a ring of burglars that operate across the state. Local departments often handle isolated incidents within city or town limits.

By istria — On Nov 14, 2010

@ Amphibious54- In the case of felony drunk driving on a state maintained roadway, the highway patrol usually takes the lead.

Most states allow all officers of the law jurisdiction within that state. If the drunk driver was driving on that state roadway as it ran through a city, it could go either way. You might have a city cop on a motorcycle make an arrest, a county cop passing through make the arrest, or the states highway patrol division of the State police handles the case.

By Amphibious54 — On Nov 14, 2010

How do state and local police departments decide on jurisdiction of a case? It seems like it would become confusing when trying to separate the duties of town or city cops from county and state police officers. Take for example a felony DUI on a state route. Who would handle the case?

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