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No police or military experience? You could still be a state trooper

Johnny Poulos of the Mississippi Highway Patrol makes a point about school bus safety during training course in Biloxi.
Johnny Poulos of the Mississippi Highway Patrol makes a point about school bus safety during training course in Biloxi. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

If you’ve thought about being a state trooper but felt you had no experience and wouldn’t qualify, consider Johnny Poulos.

The Biloxi native had no background in law enforcement or the military when he signed up to take a state trooper class nearly 18 years ago.

He made it through the rigorous training program and graduated, cutting his teeth on patrol in the state’s six southernmost counties. Today, he’s a captain and the MHP’s public affairs director.

And he’s eager to persuade anyone interested in being a state trooper to submit an application.

“If you want it and you believe you’ve got what it takes, fill out the application,” he said.

He said he wanted to be a state trooper because he has family who were state troopers.

“It was in my blood, being around the MHP,” he said.

He graduated from a state trooper cadet class Oct. 29, 1999.

“There were 27 in the graduating class and only two were civilians with no prior law enforcement or military experience, and I was one of those two,” he said.

“I will never forget that day.”

Applications available

MHP is accepting applications through May 31 for its 62nd cadet school, an effort public safety officials hope will alleviate a severe shortage of state troopers. The state Legislature has approved funding to graduate up to 60 new troopers.

MHP is allocated 650 state trooper positions but only 475 are filled, Poulos said. Of those, about 150 troopers are eligible to retire soon. The cadet school is the state’s first since 2015, when 48 graduated.

In the last class, MHP accepted 150 applications and started with 90 trainees and 60 alternates. As trainees dropped out in the first week, the class added alternates — all 60 of them.

Our training is mentally and physically challenging. It has to be that way because of what we go through in law enforcement. If you’re fighting for your life, you’ve already been trained on how to survive.

Capt. Johnny Poulos, MHP public affairs director

“Our training is mentally and physically challenging,” Poulos said. “It has to be that way because of what we go through in law enforcement. If you’re fighting for your life, you’ve already been trained on how to survive.”

MHP aims to graduate 60 new state troopers. They will be assigned around the state as needed.

Troop K, which patrols the southernmost counties, currently has 22 troopers.

19 weeks with pay

The 19-week class is at MHP’s training academy in Pearl, on the outskirts of Jackson. Trainees live on the premises and receive a paycheck that’s well above minimum wage, Poulos said. The amount has not yet been determined by the State Personnel Board, he said.

Those who graduate and join MHP will receive an annual pay of $41,000.

Applicants may be as young as 21, but those 23 and younger must have a high school diploma or GED.

Otherwise, applicants must have an associate’s degree. Or a diploma or GED and at least four years of active military duty or six years of National Guard duty, or be a law enforcement academy graduate with at least one year of experience.

A candidate whose appliceation is approved must complete a medical screening, drug test, agility test, background check, polygraph and psychological screening.

Applications can be picked up at MHP’s Troop K headquarters on Mississippi 67 in Biloxi, or download an application and information at dps.state.ms.us.

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