State police

State police

State police are a type of sub-national territorial police force, particularly in Australia and the United States. Some other countries have analogous police forces, such as the provincial police in some Canadian provinces, while in other places, the same responsibilities are held by national police forces.

United States

In the United States, state police are a police body unique to each U.S. state, having statewide authority to conduct law enforcement activities and criminal investigations. In general, they perform functions outside the jurisdiction of the county sheriff (Vermont being a notable exception), such as enforcing traffic laws on state highways and interstate expressways, overseeing the security of the state capitol complex, protecting the governor, training new officers for local police forces too small to operate an academy, providing technological and scientific support services, and helping to coordinate multi-jurisdictional task force activity in serious or complicated cases in those states that grant full police powers statewide. A general trend has been to bring all of these agencies under a state Department of Public Safety. Additionally, they may serve under different state departments such as the Highway Patrol under the state Department of Transportation and the Marine patrol under the Department of Natural Resources. Twenty-three U.S. states use the term "State Police."


The Pennsylvania state police force emerged in the aftermath of the anthracite mine strike of 1902 in Pennsylvania. The passage of legislation on May 2nd 1905 did not provoke controversy because it was quietly rushed through the mine-owner dominated legislature, but the strike-breaking role of the new police elicited strong opposition from organized labor, who likened them to the repressive Russian cossacks under the tsar. President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a former New York City Chief of Police, noted that the Pennsylvania State Police were intended to replace the infamous Coal and Iron Police, the private company police used to counter unionism:
"When the laboring masses rocked in mortal combat with the vested interest, the State stepped in to prove her impartial justice by selling her authority into the vested interests' hands! ... whenever the miners elected to go out on strike ... they invariably found the power of the State bought, paid for, and fighting as a partisan on their employers' side. Nor was there any attempt made to do this monstrous thing under mask of decency.
Roosevelt's assertions notwithstanding, the Iron and Coal Police continued to operate in increasing numbers into the 1930s.

The formation of the New York State Police force on April 11th 1917 was amidst controversy and public debate, and the legislation creating it passed by only one vote. Proponents of a proposal to establish the New York State Police depicted state police as the policemen-soldiers of an impartial state in labor disputes, and saw in them "no gendarmerie, no carabinieri," intimating that labor's opposition was "un-American." Instead, they were to be more like the Northwest Mounted Police of Canada or the trooper police of Australia, both of which had a much more respectable reputation than the maligned forces evoked by trade unionists. Outside of Pennsylvania, the new state police were also established to free up the National Guard from strikebreaking duties, which was extensive in the later 19th century and early decades of the 20th.

The strikebreaking demands on the new state police decreased over time and their mandate modernized with the creation of the inter-state highway system and proliferation of the automobile. While the early "state troopers," as the name implies, were mounted troops, by mid-century they were fully motorized police forces.

State Police

Twenty-three U.S. states actually call their state police by that term. These forces are fully empowered law enforcement agencies with statewide jurisdiction, which conduct patrols and respond to calls for service and perform all the other aforementioned duties. The State Police may be the name of the independent agency or it may fall under a Department of Public Safety. These states are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Alaska State Police was renamed Alaska State Troopers in 1967.

The California State Police (CSP), a security police agency, was merged into the California Highway Patrol in 1995.

Highway Patrol

In other states, the state police are known by different names. However, most have the same jurisdiction over the entire state as the agencies that are simply called "State Police". The rankings of the highway patrol may be trooper or officer. The names are usually historical and do not necessarily describe the agency's function or jurisdiction. They may exist as part of or separate from the state police:

Other State Police agencies

  • State Bureaus of Investigation (SBI) - the state's detectives, (New Jersey State Detective Agency).
  • State Bureau of Narcotics - the state-level counter-part to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Department of Public Safety (DPS) exist in 30 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Vermont), many of which contain the State Police and in some cases the Highway Patrol.
  • Motor Carrier Enforcement - another organization with many various titles and may be part of the actual State Police or Highway Patrol. Many belong the their state's Department of Transportation. These agencies conduct vehicle inspections and enforce the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) as mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). They conduct safety inspections of commercial motor vehicles (primarily trucks and buses), inspects highway shipments of hazardous materials, and performs compliance reviews (safety performance audits) on motor carriers. The DPS adopts and enforces driver and vehicle safety regulations and hazardous materials regulations as part of this program. Both the Arkansas Highway Police and the New Hampshire Highway Patrols are motor carrier enforcement agencies.
  • Marine Patrol - The state water police.
  • State Park Police - New Jersey and New York
  • Florida Department of Law Enforcement - In 1967, the Florida Legislature merged the responsibilities of several state criminal justice organizations to create the Bureau of Law Enforcement. The Bureau began with 94 positions, headed by a Commissioner who reported to the Governor, certain Cabinet members, two Sheriffs, and one Chief of Police. In July 1969, after government restructuring, the Bureau became the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Today, FDLE is headed by a Commissioner who is appointed by the Governor and approved by the Cabinet. Headquartered in Tallahassee, FDLE employs nearly 2,000 members statewide who work at the department’s seven Regional Operations Centers, 15 field offices and seven crime laboratories. The members of FDLE are guided by four fundamental values as they respond to the needs of Florida’s citizens and criminal justice community: service, integrity, respect, and quality.

FDLE is structured to deliver services in five program areas:Executive Direction and Business, Support Program, Criminal Investigations and Forensic Science Program, Florida Capitol Police Program, Criminal Justice Information Program, Criminal Justice Professionalism Program.

Sub-national territorial police forces in other countries

The Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador have provincial police forces, which are roughly analogous to U.S. state police forces. The policing responsibilities of the other provinces are contracted to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Several communities/nationalities in the Kingdom of Spain possess their own police force akin to "State Police" or "Community Police", like Ertzaintza in Euskadi and Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia.

Each state in Brazil has two state police forces;

The Landespolizei (or LaPo) is a term used in the Federal Republic of Germany to denote the law enforcement services which patrol the German Bundesländer and is the approximate equivalent to the State police in the United States of America.


Several Commonwealth of Nations countries have as their lowest level of general policing the state police.


See also: Law enforcement in Australia

Each state of Australia has its own state police force, namely the New South Wales Police Force (Australia's largest police force), the Victoria Police, the Queensland Police, the Northern Territory Police, the Tasmania Police, the South Australian Police and the Western Australian Police. Municipalities do not have police forces and it is left to the state forces to police the geographic areas within their respective states. Australia does have a national police force, namely the Australian Federal Police whose role is to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth, both criminal law and civil law and to protect the interests of the Commonwealth both domestically and internationally. The AFP does however provide 'state' policing for the Australian Capital Territory, Jervis Bay Territory and Australia's other external territories such as Norfolk Island.

Prior to the Federation of Australia each Colony within Australia had numerous police forces, however these were largely amalgamated well before Federation.


See also: Law enforcement in India

Each state has a state police force, headed by the DGP (Director General of Police). The state police is responsible for maintaining law and order in townships of the state and the rural areas.

In addition to the state police, major cities have their own police forces called Metropolitan Police. Accordingly the laws in individual states may vary so the metropolitan police may or may not be subordinate to the state police.


The Italian State Police, the Polizia di Stato, are one of three national police forces in Italy. They perform general police duties alongside the Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza.

The (Polizia Provinciale) is a general term used to identify provincial-level police forces in Italy. Some Italian provinces have their own police force (more or less like the American county police, but with much less power). Polizia Provinciale are small police organisations and their main duties are to enforce regional and national hunting and fishing laws but have also expanded into environmental protection. The forces' vehicles are usually white with a green or blue stripe along the side.


See article: Japanese police

Each Prefecture of Japan maintains its own police force while the NPA serves to coordinate them. Each prefectural police headquarters contains administrative divisions corresponding to those of the bureaus of the National Police Agency. Headquarters are staffed by specialists in basic police functions and administration and are commanded by an officer appointed by the local office of the National Public Safety Commission. Most arrests and investigations are performed by prefectural police officials (and, in large jurisdictions, by police assigned to substations), who are assigned to one or more central locations within the prefecture. Experienced officers are organized into functional bureaus and handle all but the most ordinary problems in their fields.


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