Generally recognized as the first state police agency in the nation, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) patrols the highways and also serves a general policing function in the state. PSP officers are called ”troopers.” Duties of troopers include traffic enforcement as well as general law enforcement. Troopers patrol state and interstate roadways in Pennsylvania, enforcing the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code. In addition, PSP troopers provide exclusive police coverage in 1,282 municipalities in Pennsylvania on a fulltime basis and enforce laws on a part-time basis in another 2,565 municipalities in the commonwealth.

Additional duties include administering a forensic services bureau, which provides crime lab services for criminal investigations; the provision of protective services for the governor of Pennsylvania and certain other state officials; the administration of the PATCH (Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History) background check database; and oversight and administration of the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting system. PSP is accredited by CALEA (Commission for the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies). PSP states that it is the largest internationally accredited law enforcement agency in the world.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Pennsylvania was changing rapidly from a state that was primarily agricultural to one that was experiencing new communities growing up around textiles, mills, and mining. Local law enforcement officers, who were able to keep the peace among the rural population, struggled to quell violence that occasionally came with the tougher labor issues of a rapidly industrializing society.

In 1865, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed State Act 228, authorizing railroads to organize private police to protect their property. A year later, the act was extended to anyone owning ”any colliery, furnace or rolling mill within the Commonwealth” (Meyerhuber 1987, 152). Known as ”Coal and Iron Police,” these private police officers were paid by the companies that hired them, though they were commissioned by the state. They were used by business owners who paid them to protect their interests and performed such tasks and heavy-handed functions as evicting miners from company-owned properties, intimidating family members, and breaking up strikes. There were also serious allegations against the Coal and Iron Police of assault, kidnapping, rape, and even murder. In 1931, the governor revoked all Coal and Iron Police commissions.

Even as the Coal and Iron Police operated in the commonwealth, other serious problems associated with growth and urbanization began to emerge. These came to a head with the Great Anthracite Strike of 1902, which lasted for five months and created a nationwide coal shortage. In its aftermath, there was recognition of the need for a publicly employed statewide police force. In 1905, the Pennsylvania State Police was created. For the first twenty years of its existence, the complement of the PSP was limited to 228 men. Currently, the PSP has a complement of more than 4,545 sworn officers and employs more than sixteen hundred civilians, who serve in a range of support functions.

Over the years, the size, demographic composition, and specific tasks and operational functions of the PSP has grown and changed with the needs of the commonwealth. In 1923, the State Highway Patrol was created under the Department of Highways. Separate substations, or troops, developed to train and implement the Highway Patrol. In 1937, the State Highway Patrol merged with the State Police to form the Pennsylvania Motor Police. More responsibilities were added to the duties of the Motor Police, such as school bus inspections and the return of escaped convicts and parole violators. In 1941, the name of the organization was changed to the Pennsylvania State Police.

The PSP was established in a fashion similar to a military organization. Organizational divisions are called troops; officers are called troopers; and training headquarters are called barracks. From 1907 until 1961, troopers enlisted for two-year periods, after which they could honorably discharge and reenlist. Per order of the state police superintendent in 1907, enlistments were open only to single men. This order remained effective until 1961 as well. In 1927, a regulation was implemented that prohibited troopers from marrying without the approval of the superintendent. It was not until 1963 that married men were permitted to enlist. In 1972, the first female troopers graduated from an academy class of the PSP.

In contrast to many of its counterparts in other states and municipalities, there are several practices in which the PSP do not engage. Consistent with practices of early constables, PSP do not wear badges on their uniforms. They display patches, which are designed to reflect symbols specifically representing the history and traditions of the organization. Additionally, the PSP do not have a citizen ride-along program. Rationale for this decision focuses on liability concerns, safety issues, and privacy considerations related to the parties who may be crime victims or callers for police services.

The Pennsylvania State Police marked a century of service in 2005. A nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history and memorabilia of the PSP has acquired land and constructed a PSP Historical, Educational, and Memorial Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In addition to a collection of antiques, weapons, and photographs, the center houses a library, educational space, and a memorial and wall of honor. A recent project the group has undertaken has been the complete restoration of a 1972 Plymouth Fury to an authentic State Police Patrol vehicle. The project was completed in 2000.

The PSP has had several scandals within the past several years. In fall 2003, a state inspector general released a report making a number of recommendations related to the PSP practicing, condoning, and covering up “sexcapades,” including sexual misdeeds involving more than seventy-five troopers. According to the report, “The State Police must acknowledge the existence and extent of its problem. Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct at the State Police is not just an isolated incident. Changing procedures, attitudes, and cultures can go a long way in eliminating the problem” (Philadelphia Daily News, September 23, 2003).

Controversy also developed surrounding the reliability of the Genesis radar guns used by the PSP for speed detection. Phantom readings of seventy miles per hour were shown when the units were plugged into Ford Crown Victoria power sources, even when the radar guns were aimed at nonmoving objects. PSP claimed the guns had an override feature that kept the readings true, but the issue has advanced to federal court.

The first female to attain the rank of deputy commissioner was fired in June 2005 (also representing the first female of high rank to be fired). There were accusations that the firing was retaliatory, based on her filing of an internal affairs complaint related to perjury on the part of the commissioner. Because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the firing, concern was expressed by other female officers, including the National Center for Women and Policing. A settlement was reached later in the year that provided for her rehiring and for generous retirement benefits, in exchange for her January 2006 retirement.

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