Keeping Montana’s Highways Safe

Montana Highway Patrol seeking 10 new state troopers

By Justin Franz
Trooper Eric Thoreson checks a license plate while patrolling U.S. Highway 93 on March 18, 2016. Thoreson has been with the Montana Highway Patrol for four years. The state is currently looking for 10 new state troopers. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Four years ago, Eric Thoreson decided he needed a change. The golf course grounds manager in Big Sky was looking for something different and decided to follow his roommate at the time into law enforcement, specifically the Montana Highway Patrol.

It was a drastic career change, but one the 33-year-old said he doesn’t regret.

“I really enjoy trying to make everyone just a little bit safer,” he said.

And now the Montana Highway Patrol is looking for 10 new troopers like Thoreson. Earlier this year, MHP announced it had 10 openings in its annual law academy and applications are due by April 7. Upon completion of the academy later this year, the 10 applicants will be assigned to vacancies across the state.

According to Anastasia Burton, deputy communications director for the Montana Department of Justice, there are about 250 troopers across the state. Burton said the highway patrol usually recruits about 10 new troopers every year to replace those who have either left the patrol for other jobs or retired.

State troopers have a variety of duties, but their primary goal is helping keep Montana’s thousands of miles of highway safe. Besides enforcing road rules, they investigate crashes and perform many duties of any other law enforcement officer.

Thoreson, like every trooper, went through a lengthy interview process before being accepted into the general law enforcement academy in Helena, which lasted 12 weeks. After that, he attended another academy specifically for the Montana Highway Patrol that also lasted about three months. After graduating, he was assigned to Glendive and later Polson. After a year with the patrol, he was able to land his current assignment in the Kalispell district office. Within the district office are four different detachments: two based in Kalispell, one in Polson and another in Lincoln County. He said there are about 14 troopers assigned to the Flathead Valley and usually three to five on the road at any given time.

When most people think of the Highway Patrol they may recall the unfortunate feeling of getting a speeding ticket, but Thoreson said there is much more to the patrol then handing out citations. In fact, on a recent Friday afternoon, Thoreson only pulled over one person on U.S. Highway 93 and gave them a warning. Thoreson said that safety is more important than a fine, and he hopes that everyone he pulls over learns the importance of following the speed limit.

Perhaps the most important part of Thoreson’s job is responding to traffic accidents. He said in his experience, distracted driving is one of the leading causes of crashes.

“Sometimes I can’t believe the things people do while driving,” he said, recalling one incident where a driver was talking on a cell phone and eating a sandwich when they went off the road. “You run out of hands quick.”

Thoreson said the best part of his job is the freedom it offers. Even though he spends the vast majority of his 10-hour shifts in his patrol car, he said he could do his job almost anywhere in Northwest Montana.

“You get a lot of freedom,” he said, cruising around the valley on a sunny afternoon. “You’re not bound by city lines or county lines.”

For more information about the Montana Highway Patrol, visit dojmt.gov/highwaypatrol.