South Carolina Department of Public Safety



South Carolina Highway Patrol -- The History

The advent of the motor vehicle as the common mode of transportation gave South Carolinians more freedom to move about the state than ever before, but the growing number of vehicles sharing the road soon created mayhem since there were no laws governing driving behavior. By 1930, there was an urgent need for regulation of South Carolina motor vehicle travel as an untold number of accidents, injuries and deaths began to mount. There was a growing feeling that something must be done to protect motorists from themselves and to protect other drivers thus the Driver Licensing Act of 1930 became law. This law required persons who operated motor vehicles to have a driverís license. Additionally, this law created the Highway Patrol to enforce the statutes governing travel on our roads.

The new South Carolina Patrol consisted of 69 men, including a Patrol Captain (S.E. Owen of St. Matthews), as assistant to the Captain, 11 License Inspectors, 7 Lieutenants and 49 Patrolmen, charged with patrolling the 5,991 miles of highways that were in South Carolina at the time.  The original members of the Highway Patrol were given no formal training. They were simply issued a gun, a badge, a uniform, and with a few verbal instructions, they began enforcing the new laws using motorcycles for patrol.  Patrolmen were given powers equal to those of county sheriffs regarding road matters (arrest without warrants, detention of those apprehended, etc.) and were responsible for enforcing the provisions of the new licensing law and promoting highway safety.

The Highway Patrolís uniforms were inspired by the Pennsylvania State Police, and were designed for comfort and convenience while patrolling on motorcycles. Heavy leather gloves, called gauntlets, and black leather jackets were worn for protection against the elements.  Trousers had a black stripe down the outside seam and fit closely from the knee to the ankle, like jodhpurs.  For a short while, leather puttees were used, but those were replaced by black leather knee length boots.  Both the trousers and shirts were made of grey material with a bow tie of black leather snapped on the shirt collar. The uniform was topped by a visored cap of the type still worn by motorcycle police in many of our larger cities. 

With some variation, this uniform was worn until 1949 when dark green trousers and poplin shirts replaced the old uniform. This was later replaced by tan-colored uniforms that were used until 1979 when the present grey uniform was adopted.  A law was enacted making it unlawful for any other agency to wear uniforms like those worn by the South Carolina Highway Patrol. There have been many additions since this time for the comfort and protection of the Trooper.

As time passed, it became an accepted fact among the public that driving was indeed a privilege to be enjoyed only as long as it was not abused.  Safety became more and more important as the number of vehicles, the volume of travel and the miles of highway continued to increase.  Traffic law enforcement, however had very practical limitations.  Beyond licensing, the public needed to be educated to think seriously about safety on the highways.  In 1932, the Patrol initiated its first safety campaign, which consisted of a series of safety lectures from material obtained from the National Safety Council.  It was also this year that drivers, for the first time, could have their licenses revoked for traffic violations. A total of 1,261 persons lost their newly acquired driverís licenses and Patrolmen imposed an impressive $96,000 in fines.

In 1932, new Patrolmen received training for the first time.  The first Patrol training school was held at Camp Jackson, which had been abandoned at the close of World War I.  Here the recruits underwent three months of training in all phases of Patrol work. As the need arose for additional Patrolmen, training programs were held to qualify applicants for the job.  Today, no person is commissioned as a Patrol officer until he or she has been thoroughly trained and demonstrated his or her ability in a field assignment.

In 1934, a traffic engineer was appointed and an identification officer was employed.  The latter was a fingerprint expert assigned to Patrol Headquarters at night.  He was available to all peace officers and to the general public for furnishing records and necessary information pertaining to violations and apprehension of violators.  The Patrol now consisted of 79 members, 60 of whom were Patrolmen.

During the first seven years of its existence, the expansion of the Patrol was phenomenal.  By 1937, the year the Highway Safety Act became law, the Patrol consisted of 90 members, 79 of whom were Patrolmen.  While on duty, the patrolmen traveled a total of 2,995,986 miles and made 14,491 cases resulting in fines amounting to more than $236,000. In addition to cases brought before trial officers, 53,841 motorists were stopped and warned because of minor traffic violations; 71 stolen vehicles were recovered and 32 persons were arrested in connection with the thefts.

Motorcycles were gradually replaced by automobiles as the Patrol grew.  Although the license inspectors had automobiles as early as 1928, the big changeover came around 1937. Today, a majority of patrolling is done in cars, but the Patrol has begun to reintroduce motorcycles after a 50-year hiatus.  The unit currently consists of fifteen BMW motorcycles.

The Patrol continued to grow and expand its duties at a rapid rate until 1941, when the United States entered World War II.  The war effort claimed many of the Patrolmen, and gas rationing brought almost all highway travel, except for vital business purposes, to a halt.  Patrol activity was curtailed to a virtual standstill as the major emphasis during the next four years was on national defense.

 At the close of World War II, the unprecedented growth in vehicle registration and the highway travel brought new demands for increased efficiency in traffic law enforcement.  In 1947, Patrol cars were equipped with two-way radios and later with car-to-car communications capabilities.  The state Constabulary was created and the fingerprint expert was transferred to that agency.  The traffic engineering responsibilities were later removed from the Patrol and made an integral part of the Engineering Division.  These changes enabled the Patrol to concentrate all of its resources on the enforcement of traffic laws.  At this time, the Patrol Training School was streamlined by reducing the training period from three months to an intensive course of eight weeks. Greater emphasis was placed on the field training portion of the school, which follows the classroom study.

The Patrol, which was originally part of the Motor Vehicle Division, grew in size and in responsibility. It was determined that it could function more efficiently as a separate division of the Department.  Therefore, in 1953, the change was instituted making the Chief Highway Commissioner directly responsible for the Highway Patrol.

The 1960ís saw a number of significant innovations in the Patrol.  Radar was introduced in 1962 as a tool to apprehend speeders, and unmarked patrol cars were first used in 1965. The 1970ís started off with a ground-breaking ceremony of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia.  The Academy was completed and opened in 1972, and since then, the Patrol has trained all of its recruits at that location. 

September 1977 brought yet another change to the Highway Patrol when women were hired for the first time.  At this time, seven women, along with 52 men, underwent the 12-week course and were assigned to Patrol duty.  Also in 1977, the Silas N. Pearman building was completed in Columbia and the Patrol was moved into the new facilities on Park Street.    

In 1978, the Legislature passed a law allowing the Highway Patrol to adopt a uniform to be worm exclusively by the Patrol. The color of the Patrol cars was changed by that same Legislation to metallic silver with blue stripes.  Uniforms presently worn by the Patrol are grey with navy trim and the shoulder insignia has silver letters on the navy background.  All troopers are issued both short sleeve summer uniforms and long sleeve winter uniforms.  In, 1993, the South Carolina Highway Patrol was voted Law and Order magazineís ďBest Dressed Officers.Ē

The issued sidearm for patrolmen was initially a five-inch blue steel Smith & Wesson Colt .38 special revolver.  In the mid 1980ís, the Patrol phased in the Smith & Wesson four inch stainless steel model 65 .357 revolver.  In 1992, after 62 years of carrying a revolver, the South Carolina Highway Patrol began testing semi-automatic weapons.  After research and evaluation in 1993, the South Carolina Highway Patrol adopted the Glock Model 22 .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun, which is being carried by all Highway Patrol personnel. A .38 special Smith & Wesson back-up revolver is also issued to Troopers.

In 1980, the South Carolina Highway Patrol celebrated its 50th Anniversary, recognizing that modern travel has created new and more complex problems in the area of enforcement, placing more and greater responsibilities on the Patrol to ensure that safe and orderly use of the highway is preserved. To keep up with the increasing demands of the traveling public, the Patrol during this time established the Motor Vehicle Dealer Investigation Unit, and Internal Affairs Unit, and a Drug Enforcement Program.  Mobile breath testing vans were placed into service during this period to help combat drunken driving violations.  In the late 1980ís the Patrol began participating in the Governorís RAID Team in cooperation with three other state law enforcement agencies.  This team included a drug detecting canine unit.  The Forensic Investigation Unit was begun to provide assistance with collision investigations that required more technical expertise.  The 1980ís also saw the name of the rank change for Highway Patrolman to State Trooper.

The high performance Mustang patrol vehicle was added to the Patrol fleet in the 1980ís.  However, in 1994, unmarked Ford Crown Victorias began to replace the Mustang. During this same year, each of the seven districts, in addition to seven canine handlers, were issued a semi-marked 4x4 Ford Explorer as an Emergency Preparedness and Special Enforcement Vehicle.  In 1995, the Camaro was introduced as a high-performance vehicle.

In 1993, due to government restructuring, the Highway Patrol became part of the newly formed South Carolina Department of Public Safety.  Since this restructuring, the mission of the Highway Patrol to provide professional traffic safety through fair and impartial enforcement of our stateís traffic laws has not changed:  

In 1995, the Department of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol established a specialized unit to conduct in-depth investigations of traffic collisions involving fatalities and/or severe injuries.  This unit, called the Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) consists of three teams of highly trained state Troopers who have specific skills in accident reconstruction, traffic engineering and automotive engineering (INSERT MAIT PHOTO).  The ultimate objective of the MAIT unit is to determine the subtle contributory and injury cause(s) and, in turn, use these factors to prevent collisions of a similar nature. April 1995 also saw the addition of the Division of Support Services to the Highway Patrol. Support Services includes Physical Fitness; the Civil Emergency Response Team (CERT); the Honor Guard; Administrative Enforcement and Polygraph & Recruiting.

Todayís Highway Patrol Troopers undergo a rigorous 20-week training program at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia with eight weeks of field training upon graduation.  All trainees live under military-type discipline while at the Academy and are taught various subjects ranging from traffic law and narcotics investigation to communications and human relations.

Because the Highway Patrol is committed to maintaining its motto of COURTESY, EFFICIENCY, SERVICE, only a select group of men and women are chosen to join the ranks of South Carolinaís finest.  Typically, out of more than 1,500 applicants, a Trooper Basic class consists of only 50 men and women.  As a result of the Highway Patrolís uncompromising selection and training methods, the South Carolina Highway Patrol has better than a 90 percent court conviction rate, one of the highest in the nation.  Progress has not been made, however, without sacrifice. In the 67-year history of the Highway Patrol, 40 troopers have given their lives in the line of duty. Link to Fallen Troopers page

Today, under the leadership of the Director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, James K. Schweitzer, and Patrol Commander, Colonel Russell F. Roark, III, there are more than 800 commissioned state Troopers assigned to the Highway Patrol Division, in addition to  communication and civilian support personnel.  Highway Patrol Headquarters in Columbia moved from Broad River Road to Blythewood off I-77 in 2003, allowing the SCDPS to be housed together for the first time since its creation in 1993. This move also allowed the consolidation of several Telecommunications facilities to a new state-of-the-art Communications Facility at Blythewood. 

The Highway Patrol converted from districts to a Troop structure in early 2003. There are seven geographic areas of the state divided into Troops/Posts. This new structure allows for seamless 24-7 coverage of the state.  While the primary function of the Patrol is to enforce motor vehicle laws, there are several specialized units within the modern day Patrol.

         The Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT): investigates complicated vehicle crashes, using state-of-the-art technology and analysis to reconstruct the scene.

         The Civil Emergency Response Team (CERT): responds to civil emergencies using specialized training, tactics and equipment.

        The ACE (Aggressive Criminal Enforcement) Team: works specifically to curtail trafficking and transportation of illegal drugs on South Carolina roadways and includes the K-9 Corps, which assists in tracking drugs and the motorcycle unit.

         The Telecommunications Centers: work dispatching troopers to incident scenes and assist the public with emergency calls.

         The Insurance Enforcement Unit: works closely with the Department of Motor Vehicles to identify uninsured drivers and take them off the highways.

         Community Relations Office: includes uniformed troopers and civilian staff around the state dedicated to educating the public and media about the Highway Patrol and highway safety.

         Governorís Security Detail: works with the State Law Enforcement Division to provide security for the South Carolina Governor and his family.

         Emergency Management Unit: monitors emergency traffic issues and coordinates hurricane evacuation efforts.

While there have been many changes over the years, South Carolina Highway Patrol remains firmly rooted in its mission: to provide equitable service and protection and to uphold the laws and constitutions of the United States and the State of South Carolina in order to promote a safe and secure environment for the public.

The personnel of the South Carolina Highway Patrol recognize that to achieve our mission, policies and programs must be developed that allow us to:

  • Serve the public in a dedicated, honest, reasonable, and professional manner.
  • Assist, direct, educate, and counsel the public in matters consistent with our mission.
  • Reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents through the diligent enforcement of traffic laws and promotion of traffic safety.
  • Cooperate and communicate with other law enforcement agencies in our common objectives.
  • Respond to emergencies and disasters with all available resources.
  • Be accountable and manage all allocated resources effectively and efficiently.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol Breast Badge

The original badge and shoulder patch were designed in 1930 by the late Carl Metz, one of the early employees of the South Carolina Highway Department.  He also designed the emblem displayed on the side of Patrol cars today.  For about five years (1940-1945), a badge was used which contained an outline map of the state in the center This was replaced by the original badge which bears the obverse of the state seal and motto ďANIMIS OPIBUSQUE ARTIĒ (prepared in mind and resources.)

The South Carolina Highway Patrol Emblem

The South Carolina Highway Patrol emblem is of the keystone design.  The background is midnight navy blue with silver-gray lettering and border.  The emblem incorporates in its design the South Carolina State Seal which is also silver-gray.  In 1990, colors were added to the inner circles to add a more distinctive look.  Emblems are worn on both sleeves of all Patrol garments.

The Patrol Wing

The Patrol wing is used on the front doors of all marked Patrol vehicles.  The wing incorporates in its design the obverse side of the South Carolina State Seal.  The wings are gold and were designed by Carl Metz, an early employee of the Highway Department.


Copyright © 2005  SC Department of Public Safety.  All rights reserved.