History of the Montana Highway Patrol

The Patrol has a long and proud tradition of excellence. Although the Montana Highway Patrol’s responsibilities have grown, its mission still centers on the basic premise that prompted its creation in 1935 – protecting the lives of those who travel on Montana’s highways.

1933-4

Montana led the nation with a 74 percent increase in highway fatalities.

1935

Montana citizens and legislative representatives recognized the need to create an enforcement agency in an effort to curb needless deaths on Montana’s highways, and so the Montana Highway Patrol was created.

From a pool of 1,500, 24 candidates were selected for the first Highway Patrol Recruit Academy. In May, the first Highway Patrol officers began safeguarding Montana’s highways. The officers were authorized to enforce 11 traffic laws. Their main focus, however, was to educate and assist the public.

In the first year officers patrolled Montana’s highways, the number of fatalities decreased 25 percent. The Highway Patrol’s efforts led to an increased demand for continued enforcement and education to reduce fatalities.

1943

A Safety and Education Division was created within the Montana Highway Patrol. Uniformed Highway Patrol officers assumed the responsibility of educating citizens about highway traffic safety.

1946

Officer Bob Steele was the first Montana Highway Patrol officer killed in the line of duty.

1948

The Driver License Bureau was created within the Montana Highway Patrol to administer the written and driving tests necessary to get a driver’s license.

1954

Officer James Anderson was the second Montana Highway Patrol officer killed in the line of duty.

1956

The historic 3-7-77 was added to the shoulder patch by then-Chief Alex B. Stephenson. The emblem is a tribute to the Vigilantes, the first law enforcement group in the Montana Territory.

1961

Montana Highway Patrol officers assumed the enforcement of gross vehicle weight laws on the motor carrier industry.

Late 60s-early 70s

Montana experienced a dramatic increase in fatalities.

1972

Traffic fatalities reached an all-time high of 395. As a result, the Montana Legislature approved additional positions, bringing the number of uniformed Highway Patrol officers to 220. The Montana Highway Patrol was reorganized as a bureau within the Montana Department of Justice, resulting in the elimination of the Highway Patrol Board.

1973

An Accident Prevention Unit was created to provide traffic safety enforcement to documented problem areas statewide.

Officer Richard Hedstrom became the third Montana Highway Patrol officer to die in the line of duty.

1978

Four female officers joined the Patrol.

Officer Michael Ren became the fourth officer killed in the line of duty.

1979

Under a reorganization, the Driver License Bureau was moved from the Highway Patrol to the Motor Vehicle Division. Civilian employees assumed the testing duties previously performed by Highway Patrol officers.

1983

The Highway Patrol was elevated to division status within the Department of Justice.

1984

The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) was created within the Highway Patrol as the Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau, with Highway Patrol officers performing or assisting Motor Vehicle Inspectors with in-depth motor carrier inspections.

1987

The Montana Legislature enacted a seat belt law that has since been credited with saving numerous lives.

1988

The Highway Patrol became the first state highway patrol in the nation to become nationally accredited. The accreditation process took three years to complete and was considered a critical element in enhancing the professionalism of the Montana Highway Patrol.

1993

The Patrol implemented the “Little Convincer” seat belt awareness program – a smaller version of the adult “seatbelt convincer” that demonstrates the consequences of not wearing a seatbelt. The Little Convincer uses stuffed animals in its demonstrations.

1995

On May 1, the Patrol celebrated its 60th anniversary.

In December, Congress repealed the federal fuel conservation speed limit of 55 mph on two-lane roads and 65 mph on interstate highways, leaving Montana without a specific numerical speed limit.

1996

For over 81 days beginning in February, Patrol officers assisted local and federal officers in a standoff with a group of anti-government “Freemen” on a farm near Jordan.

The Patrol computerized much of its record keeping, including the first computerized version of the Montana Accident Investigator’s Report. Also for the first time, a computer system linked all of the Patrol’s district offices.

1997

The Patrol unveiled its own blue and gold flag, featuring the shoulder patch design in the center and four stars along the top, representing the four officers killed in the line of duty.

On August 28, the Montana Highway Patrol Memorial was dedicated to honor Highway Patrol and other law enforcement officers who lost their lives while serving the people of Montana. The black granite memorial is located on the west lawn of the Capitol grounds in Helena.

1998

In response to population growth in northwest Montana, in April the Patrol created a sixth district headquartered in Kalispell.

1999

The Legislature passed a numerical speed limit, which took effect on May 28. The limit on the interstate was set at 75 mph and, on two-lane highways, at 70 mph during the day and 65 mph at night, unless posted otherwise.

2001

At the Governor’s request, the Patrol began providing dignitary protection.

2003

The Patrol initiated a Special Events Support Unit to assist other law enforcement agencies throughout Montana and the nation in situations in which the safety or health of the public is at risk, including disasters, civil disturbances, riots and demonstrations.

The Patrol began placing wireless mobile data terminals in Patrol cars, allowing troopers to send and receive information while on patrol – a change designed to maintain a more visible trooper presence on Montana’s highways.

The Legislature authorized an interim legislative study of the recruitment and retention problems within the Patrol.

2004

For the first time, the Patrol combined its Recruit Academy with the Montana Law Enforcement Academy’s basic course. New recruits attended the Academy’s 12-week basic course with officers from local agencies – a change designed to encourage the professional relationships important to interagency cooperation.

This also allowed the Patrol to switch from one Recruit Academy a year to year-round recruitment for the three basic courses offered at the Academy.

Troopers began serving as honorary escorts at home and away football games for the University of Montana head coach.

2005

Based on the recommendations of the interim legislative study, the Legislature passed House Bill 35, the department’s initiative to place – and keep – qualified troopers on Montana highways. After years of lagging behind, HB 35 allowed the department to make Patrol pay competitive with the salaries offered by local law enforcement agencies. It also exempted the Patrol from vacancy savings provisions, allowing additional officers to be placed on the road.

HB 35′s salary provisions created an alternative pay plan that established competitive salary rates by using market-based salary information from county sheriffs’ offices. The increases were funded by a $5 fee increase in vehicle registration fees.

2007

The Patrol added the first seven troopers under the new alternative pay plan (Montana Code Annotated 2-18-303).

In October, Trooper David Graham, 36, died in a traffic crash in Kalispell. He became the fifth Highway Patrol trooper to die in the line of duty in the Patrol’s 72-year history.

2008

In May, the Justice Information Technology Division and the Patrol completed the in-car computer project that began in 2003 to install wireless mobile data terminals in every Patrol car.

On August 26, Trooper Evan Schneider was killed in a traffic accident on Highway 2 near Columbia Falls. While in pursuit of a vehicle, Schneider was hit head-on by another vehicle that was forced into oncoming traffic. He became the sixth Montana trooper to die in the line of duty.

On September 22, the Patrol turned on the SmartCOP system – a state-of-the-art system that provides substantial gains in officer and public safety. Through the Itronix “Go Books” laptops in their vehicles, troopers have access to real-time criminal record information, including NCIC. When a record comes up, it highlights alerts such as outstanding warrants and restraining orders. It also allows troopers to print a copy of a warrant or a photo of a missing child without leaving their car.

2009

On January 8, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock swore in Col.Mike Tooley as the Patrol’s 17th Chief. Tooley, whose father was also a Patrol trooper, was born in Havre and joined the Patrol in 1984.

In February, Lt. Col. Butch Huseby, a native of north-central Montana and Conrad High School graduate, was sworn in as the Patrol’s second in command.

After nearly 30 years without any fatalities, Trooper Mike Haynes became the third Highway Patrol trooper to die in the line of duty in the previous 18 months. All three of the most recent deaths occurred in the Kalispell area. Trooper Haynes’ car was hit head on by a drunk driver traveling on the wrong side of the US 93. Haynes died on March 27 from the injuries received in the crash. He was the seventh Highway Patrol trooper to die in the line of duty in the Patrol’s 74-year history.

In April, the 2009 Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 39, which authorized an interim legislative study of Montana’s DUI laws, as well as the culture behind them.