On the job: NC State Trooper
This month I spoke with Ahmad El-Amin, a North Carolina state trooper.
Q What are your duties as a state trooper?
A Primarily, my job is to keep the highways safe—always watching for speeding violations and trying to reduce collisions. Speeding is a common problem, and following someone too close can be as bad as racing ahead of everybody else. There are a lot of distractions out there and new ones like texting while driving are a real problem.
Lots of young drivers text while driving, and it’s getting to the point where more drive while texting than while drunk. They think it’s easy. One thing we like to have young drivers do is a simulation where they drive a golf cart with a program that simulates texting. We tell them to glance at the text, read it aloud, and then send a reply. They’re surprised when they end up running signs and hitting moving objects. This demonstration works for some, but not for all. Peer pressure is tough and they never think they’d ever be the one to have a problem with doing both at the same time.
It’s against the law in North Carolina to operate electronic devices while driving—even GPS units. If we troopers see them drifting or weaving in traffic, we’re definitely going to pull them over.
Q How much area does a state trooper cover? And do you patrol alone?
A We usually patrol solo, and we have statewide jurisdiction although we’re usually assigned to one district. For example, I can go all over Wake County. I work an 8-hour shift and 40-hour week. Different districts have varying schedules: some work longer hours per day and have longer … what you would call weekends. Some have every other weekend off.
We have a certain autonomy, and it works well. We do take our patrol cars home, but we’re not allowed to abuse that privilege. So you won’t see us grocery shopping or running errands in our patrol cars. We can check in via computer and decide where to stop in and talk to people. We really believe in community policing.
Q Do state troopers have a higher rank than city police or county deputies? Do you ever work together or do you always work separately?
A County deputies usually handle the civil side, although they do handle some criminal, like larcenies and domestic violence cases. We state troopers do collision investigations and drug stops when there’s probable cause.
As far as jurisdiction goes, suppose city police officers are chasing someone within the city limits and they can see that they’re about to leave the county. They can call the state troopers for help and we can take over. So we might not actually work together but we’re always scanning police frequencies and are available to help out.
Q What has been the coolest thing that’s happened in your career?
A I had my picture taken with Obama. He was running for office and I was assigned to detail. I just happened to take my camera with me that day!
Q What advice would you give to us drivers?
A I’d say please be vigilant while driving. I’ve had three situations where I had to tell people that their loved-ones weren’t coming home.
Q What do you like best about being a state trooper?
A The freedom—lots of freedom. We can decide where to go; we’re not micromanaged. We look out for each other, so if one of us wants to visit our child in school, we can, and the squad will listen out. This means that we can find the time to read to our children and put them to bed. I’ve been a state trooper for nine years and I’ve enjoyed it. But you know, with any job, there will be things you don’t enjoy. No one enjoys having to deal with death and notifying family members.
Q How do you become a state trooper?
A Anyone who wants to be a state trooper can start by calling me; I’m a local recruiter and my work number is 919-733-3911. They can also go to the DPS webpage and search for highway patrol recruiter. There’s an online application and you can learn about the qualifications. Of course there’s a criminal check. Initial assessments will be made in June, so start training and get in shape now! Look up “Cooper Fitness Test” on the internet. You’ve got to be able to do a 1-1/2-mile run, do setups for one minute without stopping, and one minute of pushups. The NC State Troopers have almost 200 positions waiting to be filled. It’s not easy, but we’re always looking for excellent candidates.