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Many want to become Pa. troopers

August 05, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Brook Tolbert is hoping his five years of military experience and the college credits he's earned so far will give him a slight edge over 12,132 other people who also want to become Pennsylvania State Police Troopers.

"It's something I always wanted to do growing up," said Tolbert, 25, of Fayetteville, Pa.

The former Marine is one of nearly 100 people in Franklin County and more than 12,000 in the state - 10,627 men and 1,506 women - who submitted applications to take the state police exam next month.

But entering the ranks of state law enforcement isn't what it used to be.

Starting this year, to even apply to take the exam applicants had to have: at least an associate's degree or 60 college credits; or at least two years military experience and 30 college credits; or at least two years employment as a full-time police officer plus 30 college credits, according to Jack Lewis, press secretary for Pennsylvania State Police at its Harrisburg, Pa. headquarters.

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More than 17,000 people applied to take the last exam in 1994 before the requirements were upgraded, Lewis said.

"Now we have requirements beyond the high school education," Lewis said. "Primarily it's to improve the standards."

Many of the cadets who graduated from police academy last May have bachelor's degrees, Lewis said.

"Police work today has changed. There's still a lot of beat work, but there's more technology involved now," he said.

Not only is the application process harder, but September's exam is brand new and supposedly tougher than those of the past.

"The only advice I can give is to get a good night's sleep the night before and to allow plenty of time to get there (the exam center) so you don't feel rushed," said Lt. John Thierwechter, commanding officer of the state police barracks in Chambersburg.

Prospective applicants are whittled down even further as only the highest test scorers are placed on a list from which a certain number are selected for an interview, Lewis explained.

From that pool of people are chosen the ones who will go to the six-month police academy in Hershey, Pa.

"There aren't an awful lot of people who ultimately become state police," Lewis said, adding that only 200 to 300 new officers may emerge from the 12,000 who applied this year.

But the odds don't deter the applicants who are attracted to the profession for a number of reasons, but primarily because it pays well - starting salary is $35,511 - the benefits are good, the job is fairly secure, and there are a lot of opportunities to advance, Lewis said.

"Unless I'd really screw up, I'd have a good job and be able to retire there," Tolbert said.

Troy Gearhart, 25, of Chambersburg, currently a forest ranger with the state Department of Environmental Resources who signed up to take the exam, said he looks at becoming a state trooper as a way to advance his career, ultimately to become an officer in the U.S. Forestry Department.

The job is also ideal for people who enjoy something different all the time and like to help people, Thierwechter added.

"People see it as a positive thing to do for the community and a way to make a difference," Lewis said.

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