The North Carolina Highway Patrol

Written By North Carolina History Project

During the 1920s, more and more cars traveled across North Carolina and more and more Tar Heels purchased automobiles. Over 500,000 vehicles were registered in 1929, and traffic accidents were an ongoing problem. No state agency existed to patrol and maintain the laws on the North Carolina highways. Therefore, in 1929 the North Carolina General Assembly established the Highway Patrol.

Before the first officers started patrolling the state highways, ten officers attended Pennsylvania’s State Police Academy. The first Highway Patrol class was ordered “to study law, first aid, light adjustments, vehicle operation, and related subjects for use in North Carolina’s first Patrol School” (State Highway Patrol History). On May 20, 1929, the first Highway Patrol School opens at Camp Glenn in Morehead City, North Carolina.

Captain C. D. Farmer and his nine lieutenants were North Carolina’s first highway patrolmen. On July 1, 1929, the Highway Patrol received its commission and the officers began enforcing the laws, assisting stranded drivers, and administering first aid to accident victims. With headquarters based in Raleigh, the Highway Patrol branched out to seven different district offices across the state. In 1931, the growing police force included 67 officers.

By the start of the 1940s, the Highway Patrol started driving cars. Since the agency’s start officers chased lawbreakers on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. However, just a day after the agency’s commission Patrolman G. I. Thompson died when crashing into a truck near Marion, North Carolina on July 2, 1929.  With a deepened concern for troopers’ safety, the Highway Patrol discontinued motorcycles in 1939.

Over the years, North Carolina’s Highway Patrol has changed as more drivers travel through North Carolina. Today there are five different officer sections: Administrative Services, Technical Support Unit, Office of Professional Standards, Training, and Field Operations (the officers who patrol North Carolina roadways). With the main office located in Raleigh, district offices are located in Asheville, Fayetteville, Greenville, Greensboro, Salisbury, Newton, and Monroe. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol currently employs 2,340 employees.

According to Robert Ireland, the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s main mission is to make “North Carolina highways as safe as possible” (p. 564). In 2011, the Highway Patrol detained more than 24,000 drunk drivers. A year earlier, the state’s premier police force seized over 48,000 grams of cocaine, 176,000 grams of marijuana, and more than $950,000. In addition to its patrol, the Highway Patrol promotes the popular Buckle-in-Baby-Safely Program and proper seat belt use.