How to Become a Police Officer in Montana
The population in Montana has grown 14% over the past several years, indicating a healthy job market for the state.1 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 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 setting and enforcing minimum requirements for prospective public safety officers. Local police departments may establish additional requirements above and beyond the POST standards; for example, some police departments in Montana prefer applicants to have college credit 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. Montana’s minimum standards for police officers state that candidates must:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Be a US citizen by birth or naturalization
- Hold a high school diploma or GED
- Not have had any felony convictions
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 criminal history check, a personal history investigation, and a driving history report.
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
Future officers who meet the requirements and satisfactorily pass the initial application phase will complete the Montana POST training program at an accredited police training academy.
Montana Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements
The Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) has a roster of over 240 troopers.2 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.2 To become a Montana state trooper, candidates must meet the minimum state standards for becoming a public safety officer and:
- Have at least three years of driving experience
- Be a resident of Montana
- Meet the department’s 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. After graduating from the training academy, Montana state troopers earn a starting salary of $23.32 per hour.2
Montana Sheriff Deputy Requirements
The fourth-largest state by total land area, Montana is divided into 56 counties.3 The elected 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 meet state POST requirements and:
- Not have had any affiliations with subversive organizations within the past five years
- Be in good physical condition, as verified by a licensed physician
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) meets the general law enforcement needs of Gallatin County. The office employs 52 sworn deputies as well as numerous support staff.4 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 (LCCSO) employs over 60 sworn officers, detention officers, and support personnel.5 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.5 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 approximately 1,600 sworn personnel in Montana, there are many opportunities for aspiring officers to begin careers in Montana law enforcement.6 Candidates for Montana police officer positions must meet minimum state requirements as well as any additional requirements set by the hiring agency.
The 150 sworn officers in the Billings Police Department (BPD) serve over 105,000 people living in Billings, the largest city in Montana.7 During open application periods the department recruits new officers for its three major divisions: patrol, investigation, and specialized units, which include SWAT and bike patrol. The starting salary for Billings police officers is $25.37 per hour, which can rise up to $35.76 per hour after 22 years of service.7
The Missoula Police Department employs over 100 sworn officers.8 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. Candidates must also:
- Have eyesight at or correctable to 20/20
- Have a valid driver’s license at the time of application
- Have the ability to obtain a Montana driver’s license by the time of appointment
- Reside within 30 minutes driving time of Missoula city limits by the time of appointment
Police Training Academies in Montana
All Montana police officers must complete a basic police academy training program within one year of initial appointment. The Montana Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA) is the only police academy in the state. All officer recruits in Montana, including Montana Highway Patrol Troopers, attend the MLEA basic course.
The Montana POST, which is a separate organization from the MLEA, certifies and decertifies officers as well as approves training. For further information on POST-approved training in Montana, visit the POST website.
Montana Police Jobs Outlook
The estimated 1,600 police officers working in Montana earn an average annual salary of $54,590 per year.6 The outlook for Montana police officers is positive, with anticipated police jobs growth of 7.8% through 2026.9 There will be an estimated 110 average annual openings for police and sheriff’s patrol deputies during this timeframe, which includes replacements as well as new positions.9 For those seeking a more rural lifestyle, a police career in Montana can be a fitting choice.
Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Montana
|City||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 2018.6
1. Sperling’s Best Places, Montana: https://www.bestplaces.net/state/montana
2. Montana Highway Patrol: https://dojmt.gov/highwaypatrol/
3. World Atlas, US States by Size: https://www.worldatlas.com/geography/us-states-by-size.html
4. Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office: https://gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net/sheriffs-office
5. Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.lccountymt.gov/sheriff.html
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Montana: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_mt.htm
7. Billings Police Department: https://www.billingsmt.gov/2882/Police
8. Missoula Police Department: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/332/Police-Department
9. Projections Central: https://www.projectionscentral.org/projections/longterm