Almost all states have some kind of statewide law enforcement agency. However, the specific role and jurisdiction of these departments can vary somewhat. A few different names are used, they are normally called either State Police, State Troopers, Highway Patrol, or State Patrol. About half of the states within the country refer to these entities as State Police. 

Why are there both state and local police forces? 

The main reason why state police forces exist is to perform functions that were generally not done at the county or municipal level, such as patrolling highways or protecting the governor’s office. Historically, many county sheriffs simply did not have the authority or jurisdiction to cross between county lines to enforce the traffic laws, so an additional agency needed to be created that was not limited by local boundaries. 

This focus on inter-county traffic and travel is still found in many state law enforcement departments. For example, when a state has an agency that is called the Highway Patrol instead of State Police, most of their jurisdiction is limited to traffic enforcement, although they are still sworn police officers who can make an arrest for any crime within the state.  

Local police forces for municipalities and counties do most of them work prosecuting both violent crime and property crimes such as theft, murder, and drug trafficking. Some states coordinate both state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate high profile cases and provide administrative support. Many states also give their state police the task of investigating officer misconduct that occurs in city and county departments, in order to give an independent analysis that is less likely to be unfairly influenced.  

States with unique police divisions

Arkansas and Alaska are unique because they have both a state police force and a highway patrol. Hawaii does not have a state police force, but they use a system where the Sheriff of the Department of Public Safety has statewide jurisdiction. This was done because it is not possible to travel between all of the state’s islands with a motor vehicle.   

Are interactions with state police any different from city or county officers?

Even state police agencies that are essentially just traffic police are still given the authority to make arrests. They are also required to have the same professional law enforcement background and training requirements as all other officers within the state. 

State police can issue citations for traffic violations and detect criminal behavior. If you do have an interaction with a state police officer, you should act the same way as you would with any other law enforcement officer. These police are subject to the same rules and regulations as the local police as well, so they should conduct themselves in a professional manner. If they abuse their authority they may be disciplined or sued by the victim. 

Get legal help after an interaction with the police 

To learn more about your rights and interactions with the police, it may be necessary to contact an attorney in your area. You can use the listings on USAttorneys.com to find a lawyer who focuses on police brutality, police misconduct, and related issues. 

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