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How to Become a Police Officer in Montana

With a statewide unemployment rate of 4%, Montana has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the US.1 As the population in Montana has grown 9.98% since the year 2000, this indicates a healthy job market for the state.2 These statistics are particularly promising for prospective Montana cops, since a low unemployment rate and growing population are two indicators of job security for law enforcement.

Guidelines for those who wish to become Montana law enforcement officers are set by the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council. Though jurisdictions may set more demanding requirements for officer candidates, the POST guidelines form the minimum standards for Montana police officers. On this page you will find details on standard requirements for starting a career in law enforcement in Montana.

Montana Police Officer Requirements

The Montana POST Council is responsible for maintaining and updating the standard requirements for prospective public safety officers. Local police departments may establish additional requirements above and beyond the POST standard; for example, some police departments in Montana prefer applicants to have college credits in criminal justice or law enforcement. As in other public-facing careers, additional education beyond the high school level is seen as an asset by employers and can be a determining factor in promotion opportunities.

The Montana POST Council’s minimum standards for police officers are as follows:

Nationality, Age and Education

Candidates for employment as a Montana police officer must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a US citizen by birth or naturalization
  • Hold a high school diploma or GED

Required Examinations

Prospective police officers in any state must be prepared to take a number of exams during the application process. In Montana, these exams commonly include:

  • A medical exam by a licensed physician to assess overall physical health
  • A physical abilities test administered by the Montana Law Enforcement Testing Consortium (MTLETC)
  • A written exam measuring skills in arithmetic, reading comprehension, grammar, and writing administered by the MTLETC

Background Clearance

Good moral character is a prerequisite for becoming a Montana police officer. To prove good moral character, candidates must undergo a thorough background check which typically includes:

  • A fingerprint-based criminal history check
  • A personal history statement
  • A driving history report

Future officers who meet the requirements and satisfactorily pass the initial application phase will complete the Montana POST program at an accredited police training academy.

Montana Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

The Montana Highway Patrol has a roster of over 240 troopers.5 These men and women are responsible for patrolling the state’s highways and providing assistance to other law enforcement agencies as requested. In an average year, the Montana Highway Patrol drives over 5.5 million miles in performing its mission.5 To become a Montana state trooper, candidates must:

  • Meet minimum state standards for becoming a public safety officer
  • Have at least three years of driving experience
  • Be a resident of Montana
  • Meet stringent vision requirements
  • Complete a panel interview as well as two personality profiles

Successful candidates complete 12 weeks of training in the law enforcement officer basic training course, followed by an additional nine weeks of advanced training with the Montana Highway Patrol Recruit Academy. This is followed by a further nine weeks of field-training.

Montana Sheriff Deputy Requirements

The fourth largest state by total land area, Montana is divided into 56 counties.7 The sheriff of each county may appoint deputy sheriffs to assist with routine and non-routine law enforcement duties. All deputy sheriffs in Montana must complete a Montana POST-accredited training program or an equivalent program in another state. Additional requirements for deputy sheriffs are set by the state legislature, which stipulates that candidates for deputy sheriff must:

  • Hold a high school diploma or GED
  • Not have any felony convictions
  • Not have had any affiliations with subversive organizations within the past 5 years
  • Be in good physical condition, as verified by a licensed physician

Gallatin County

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office meets the general law enforcement needs of Gallatin County. The office employs 52 sworn deputies as well as numerous support staff.8 There are several detachments within the sheriff’s office, including patrol, detectives, and the Montana River Drug Task Force. Candidates for law enforcement positions with the Gallatin County Sheriff must meet state minimum standards as well as pass a written exam and fitness test administered by the sheriff’s office.

Lewis & Clark County

The Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office employs over 60 sworn officers, detention officers, and support personnel. 9 In addition to providing Lewis & Clark County with general law enforcement services, this sheriff’s office also performs rural fire support and search and rescue operations within the county, which comprises over two million acres.9 As a member of the Montana Law Enforcement Consortium, the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff recruits new deputies who are registered with the MTLETC candidate database and who complete a Lewis & Clark County employment application.

Police Departments in Montana

With over 119 law enforcement agencies employing nearly 2,000 sworn personnel in Montana, there are many opportunities for aspiring officers to begin careers in Montana law enforcement.10 According to the most recent estimates, there are 1,530 police and sheriff’s patrol officers working in Montana.11 Candidates for Montana police officer positions must meet minimum state requirements as well as any additional requirements set by the hiring agency.

Billings

The 142 sworn officers in the Billings Police Department serve over 105,000 people living in the Billings-metropolitan area, the largest city in Montana.12 The department recruits new officers for its three major divisions: patrol, investigation, and specialized units, which include SWAT and bike patrol. Current Police Chief Rich St. John has been serving in law enforcement since 1981, holds a Master of Public Administration from City University in Bellevue Washington, and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

Missoula

The Missoula Police Department employs over 100 sworn officers.13 Divisions within the department include investigations, patrol, and K-9. Applicants for officer positions with the department must meet state standards for peace officers and pass written and physical applicant eligibility tests, which are conducted one to two times per year. Current Chief of Police Mike Brady has served with the Missoula Police Department for over 25 years.

Police Training Academies in Montana

All Montana police officers must complete POST officer training or an equivalent training program within one year of initial appointment. Though there are exceptions, most officers typically complete training prior to assuming patrol duties. Police training academies in Montana include:

  • Billings Police Training Center – Billings, MT
  • Columbia Falls Police Department Field Training Program – Columbia Falls, MT
  • Montana State Highway Patrol Recruit Academy – Helena, MT
  • Montana Law Enforcement Academy – Helena, MT

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Montana

City Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Billings 230 $53,470
Missoula 80 $53,090
Southwestern Montana Nonmetropolitan Area 360 $50,430

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment Rates for States: https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm
2. Sperling’s Best Places, Montana: http://www.bestplaces.net/state/montana
3. Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council: https://dojmt.gov/post/applicant-new/
4. Montana Law Enforcement Testing Consortium: http://www.mtletc.org/
5. Montana Highway Patrol: https://dojmt.gov/highwaypatrol/
6. Montana Code Annotated 2014: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/7/32/7-32-2104.htm
7. Internet Public Library: http://www.ipl.org/div/stateknow/popchart.html#statesbysize
8. Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office: http://gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net/Public_Documents/gallatincomt_sheriff/sheriffdept
9. Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office:http://www.lccountymt.gov/sheriff.html
10. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csllea08.pdf
11. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm
12. Billings Police Department: http://ci.billings.mt.us/101/Police
13. Missoula Police Department: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/332/Police-Department
14. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Montana: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_mt.htm