BOULDER — Fourteen cadets are currently hard at work, going through the Montana Highway Patrol’s Advanced Academy training to help prepare them to become troopers. For the first time, they’re all living and working together in Boulder, at MHP’s new headquarters.
“It’s helpful to get to live by the other cadets, so that after hours, if there’s studying that we need to do or physically training together to prepare, we have each other to help each other out,” said Tierney Wienholz, a cadet from Great Falls. “And then on top of that, we have the admin that’s coming here to train us – they also live here on campus.”
Wienholz and her fellow cadets have been in Boulder for about three weeks. This week, they were in the classroom for crash investigation training, practicing the mathematical skills they’ll need to determine how fast vehicles were going based on their skid marks.
“Most people don’t understand the mathematics and physics that go into what we do – especially when it gets into very serious injury or fatality crashes, where sometimes these investigations take weeks, if not months,” said MHP Sgt. Jay Nelson.
This academy is showcasing one of the main advantages MHP leaders identified when they moved their headquarters from Helena to Boulder last summer. The campus – the former site of the Montana Developmental Center – includes more than 30 acres and a variety of buildings ready for use. Cadets have “combatives” self-defense training in the gymnasium, get their meals in the cafeteria and stay in the former residential cottages.
In the past, MHP held its Advanced Academy at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, where cadets and other newly hired law enforcement officers already go through their initial training. Nelson said it had become more difficult to find a schedule that worked there.
“We’ve had to have our cadets stay at Fort Harrison, Carroll College – where now everybody’s in one location, at headquarters,” said Nelson.
Above all, the new site offers MHP more room.
“There’s plenty of space here on campus – whether we’re going to physically work out outside, or even with our crash investigations, there’s enough space here that we’ve been able to go out and measure roadways and curbs and whatever we need to measure that would pertain to a crash,” Wienholz said.
MHP chief Col. Steve Lavin and other top administrators are now working out of the Boulder offices as well. Leaders say that proximity brings benefits of its own.
“It’s been super cool moving here and having that camaraderie with the administration,” said Wienholz. “Now we get to on a daily basis see them – either just in passing or if they’re stepping in and actually teaching us down here, or even if it’s just having breakfast together, lunch, dinner, whatever it might be.”
“When our command staff can literally learn every one of these cadets’ names and where they’re from and their background, that carries on for those cadets turning into troopers for their entire career,” Nelson said. “I think that’s a value that comes out of us all being together.”
These cadets will have about nine more weeks of Advanced Academy before graduating and moving on to field training. After her training is complete, Wienholz is set to return to her hometown of Great Falls to begin her MHP career.
“I get to be working in law enforcement and working more closely with the community in that way,” she said.
MHP will typically hold two to four Advanced Academies in a year, depending on scheduling. Nelson says they’re already seeing strong recruiting for the next one.
It’s important to keep new cadets coming on. The Highway Patrol has about 250 troopers, and Nelson says they typically have 10 to 15 leave each year through normal attrition.
“These troopers are going to be well received in the areas across Montana that they’re going out and starting their field training,” he said.