How State Troopers Work

Difference between Police and Troopers

Local police officers and state troopers may seem like different versions of the same thing, like competing brands of pickup trucks. Both enforce the law and protect citizens with the same basic equipment and procedures. Even the hiring and training requirements, which require admission to and completion of police academies, are generally equivalent. But while they share similar functions, state troopers are meant to have more horsepower than the average police station.

Take, for instance, jurisdiction. While local police are confined to cities, state troopers usually have authority spreading across -- you guessed it -- the whole state. But here's where things can get tricky. Depending on the location, the state law enforcement can be called the state police, state patrol or highway patrol. An agency may also be organized under a state's department of public safety or be its own entity.


Normally, state police and state patrol are granted general authority across the entire state. Highway patrol agencies, however, have specific authority, which means authority is confined to specific areas within the state. For instance, the Georgia state police can enforce the law anywhere in the state when necessary, while the California Highway Patrol is limited to state roads and other state property.

State police forces are also much smaller than many metropolitan ones. In 2006, the New York City police department had more than 35,000 police officers, compared with around 4,500 state troopers [source: FBI].

But when it comes to smaller cities and towns, the opposite is true. A majority of local police departments employ fewer than 10 officers with most state trooper forces hovering below 2,000 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

That increased horsepower also comes with a higher price tag. The median state trooper salary was $52,540 in 2006, about $5,000 more than local law enforcement.

And just like cars have different body styles and paint jobs, local and state police each have unique uniforms. Many times, state trooper uniforms are brown, rather than blue, and troopers wear a wide-brimmed Smoky the Bear styled hat. Also, the state troopers often wear star-shaped badges and patches on their sleeves to indicate their ranks. In fact, new troopers in Maryland are called "slick sleeves" because they don't wear a sleeve patch at that rank.

The ranking system reflects the troopers' paramilitary nature. Similar to local police, state troopers adhere to the following chain of command:

  • Trooper
  • Corporal
  • Sergeant
  • Lieutenant
  • Captain
  • Major
  • Lieutenant Colonel
  • Colonal

Now that we understand who state troopers are, let's look at the heart of their work -- highway patrol.