By Beth Lawrence
The North Carolina Highway Patrol is on the lookout. Always. And now the agency is on the lookout for new troopers, looking to fill hundreds of positions.
Over 1,600 NCHP troopers watch over approximately 80,000 miles of road in North Carolina.
That number is second only to Texas, according to Master Trooper Jordan Parton, the recruiter for Troop G, which includes Jackson County.
NCHP has approximately 189 positions open across the state. Troop G, covering eight counties in Western North Carolina, has 31 openings. Four of those positions are in District 5, Jackson and Haywood counties, with two openings each.
The job openings are part of an ongoing trend among public service sectors such as fire and rescue which have seen a drop in enrollments in recent years.
“Like Fire and EMS there are many reasons for this trend, and we have been dealing with it for some time,” Parton said. “We are always recruiting and looking for qualified applicants to apply with us, and to better reflect the communities that we serve. We need to continue hiring and retaining a diverse population. Most of our open positions have come from retirements, which on average we have approximately 10 a month. We have lost troopers to other professions over the years.”
One of the areas in which NCHP is striving to be more diverse is female representation.
Only three percent, or 49, of the state’s 1,600 troopers are women, including three women covering Jackson and Haywood counties – troopers Samantha Hyatt, Brooke Sanders and Parton. Three percent falls well below the national average of 13 percent female representation in other patrol divisions across the U.S.
State troopers do more than write speeding tickets and enforce traffic laws. They also have jurisdiction to stop someone for violating any state law. Troopers can lend mutual aid to other law enforcement agencies in searches, chases or other situations.
NCHP responds to and investigates wrecks not only for charges but for potential prosecution if needed. The number of crashes a trooper responds to varies from region to region, but statewide NCHP investigates an average of 110,000 crashes yearly. On average an NCHP officer could investigate up to 100 wrecks a year.
But the agency’s main goal is to reduce crashes through education and with patrols, according to Parton.
“In 2021, 1,755 people died in vehicle crashes in North Carolina; this is the highest number since 1973,” she said.
Troopers can also help stranded drivers. They are available to reroute traffic around hazardous situations and direct traffic during situations requiring evacuations such as hurricanes.
Though there is a lot of patrolling alone in a cruiser, Parton doesn’t feel the job is lonely because there are opportunities to interact with the public during traffic stops and at businesses around town when on patrol.
The job can be stressful during what Parton termed “hot calls” or situations that are out of the norm for typical duties, but helping people makes every part of the job worthwhile, she said.
Parton enjoys the helping aspect of the job, particularly talking to student drivers. She takes these opportunities to be “real and raw” with her audience about the dangers of driving, especially the importance of seatbelts.
“If I can impact one person’s life and make them think about buckling up before they head out on their way, then to me I have made a difference,” she said.
There are occasions when state troopers are called on to be heroes; in those situations the ability to think and react quickly and appropriately is crucial.
Parton has known at least one trooper who stopped a speeder and wound up delivering a baby on the side of the road, and she has been on hand to give minor medical aid and comfort at crash sites.
During a trauma the mere presence of someone in uniform can be a comfort to victims, she said.
Parton has also used quick thinking to save a life.
In 2015, Parton and another trooper rescued an unconscious person from a locked car.
On July 31 temperatures were above 90 degrees. Parton was in the area of the Jake Parris Bridge on U.S. 23/74 when she spotted an SUV with its hazard lights on parked on the shoulder of the road.
She stopped to investigate.
“When I walked up to the vehicle, I noticed a lady was unconscious behind the steering wheel,” she said. “It was a really hot summer day; the windows were all rolled up, and the vehicle was off.”
Parton could see that the woman was red-faced and breathing shallowly. She knocked on the windows, but the driver did not respond. Parton discovered the doors were locked. She called the situation in to communications who dispatched an ambulance and a second trooper, Steve Allred. The pair broke the window and pulled the woman from the car to a shaded area.
They received a Samaritan Award for their actions.
In addition to standard qualifications, Parton believes there are other qualities a trooper should have.
“A good trooper, or anyone in law enforcement should be loyal, dedicated, compassionate and have empathy,” she said. “They should be able to effectively communicate with all types of people from all walks of life. They should have integrity and be able to make sound decisions. You must be willing to risk your life for people that (you) do not even know to protect others.”
Applicants should be between 21 and 39 years old in good physical condition and be at least a high school graduate or have a GED.
Starting pay is $44,500 while attending patrol school, and top pay is currently $70,868 after six years of service.
Anyone interested in applying can contact Parton at 919-703-3829 or email Jordan.Parton@ncdps.gov.