"Because our job's so fluid, everything changes."
Being a state trooper entails more than writing tickets to those speeding down the highway. Though troopers do spend time enforcing speed limits, there are many other duties they perform that require them to be prepared for any situation.
Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Martin Swart knows those duties well, having worked in law enforcement for more than five years. He currently patrols highways in north central Kansas.
"You've just got to go with the flow, that's the big one," Swart said. "Because our job's so fluid, everything changes."
While performing traffic stops, a trooper must be alert and ready to deal with stolen vehicles or individuals who have warrants out for their arrest, all while standing mere feet away from cars and trucks driving by.
"You've got to be able to think on your feet, because you never know what you're going to come up with," Swart said.
Deftly maneuvering a Dodge Charger, Swart uses skills he received in training at the Kansas Highway Patrol Academy to safely execute U-turns on paved roads or through medians to pursue drivers breaking traffic laws.
Troopers respond to calls about debris on highways, make sure drivers pull into the opposite lane and slow down when there are workers on the roadways, and keep lanes clear of wildlife that have been injured or killed by passing motorists.
"Occasionally, there'll be a coyote that gets hit and we'll have to shoot it, or a deer that gets hit that we'll have to shoot," Swart said.
Troopers also have to investigate traffic and airplane crashes, provide emergency medical assistance, and testify in court.
Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Frazer noted KHP has its own communications center to dispatch troopers to calls, which are different from those other law enforcement agencies receive.
"We don't do what city and county do. We hardly ever go to a domestic. If we do, it's to back someone up," Frazer said.
KHP also has its own fleet of airplanes, based out of Wichita, Topeka and Hays.
"We use them on manhunts, finding lost people," Swart said. "If somebody gets in a crash and walks away from the accident, we can get a plane up and find them."
When weather conditions are unfavorable for flying, state troopers can be called upon to serve as emergency transports.
"I've transferred a bat before," Swart said. "It bit some kid, so we had to get it to Manhattan to get tested."
While a trooper works in a designated block of counties, they coordinate their efforts across the state.
"We do blood runs, occasionally," Swart said. "If there's somebody at a hospital who needs blood, we'll get it from the blood bank and then we'll run it from county to county."
Troopers trying to respond quickly to an emergency situation can be hampered when drivers do not pull over to the right and stop as prescribed in traffic laws.
"You'll have somebody who's driving and not paying attention, just hanging out in the left lane," Swart said.
When they are spotted in a driver's rearview mirror, the car in front of them will often slow down unnecessarily.
"That is the most frustrating thing in the world, especially in town, when you're trying to get someplace and somebody's going 10 under the speed limit, just because they saw you," Swart said.
Drivers can also endanger themselves and troopers by stopping in a lane of traffic or pulling over to the left when stopped by the highway patrol.
Though their work schedule can be challenging, Swart noted there are a variety of paths those interested in becoming a trooper can take. KHP offers careers in administration, aircraft operations, drug recognition, security, K-9 units and emergency management, among others.
"There's a lot of different avenues," Swart said.
It can be difficult to recruit troopers when other states and agencies offer more pay.
"You've got to enjoy the job; it's not just about the money," Frazer said.
The stress of the job and the aging of troopers is also a factor in retaining a full complement of personnel.
"Sometimes more people quit or retire than we can get hired," Frazer said.
To qualify to become a trooper, a person must be 21 years old and in good physical and mental condition. They must have a high school diploma or GED certificate and a valid U.S. driver's license and pass vision and hearing tests.
Recruits undergo 23 weeks of training at the Kansas Highway Patrol Training Academy in Salina and then go through 16 weeks of field training with a veteran trooper.
After becoming a state trooper, they are called upon provide support to other law enforcement agencies, educate the public about traffic safety, inspect motor vehicles and assist during civil disturbances and natural disasters.
"It's a little bit of everything. You just roll with it, wherever you get sent to," Swart said.
For more information about the Kansas Highway Patrol, visit http://www.kansashighwaypatrol.org or call 785-296-6800.