Between 1933 and 1934, Montana led the nation with a 74% increase in highway fatalities. This led to the belief amongst the public and legislature that Montana needed an agency to safeguard its highways. Governor Frank H. Cooney signed the bill that created the Montana Highway Patrol on March 14, 1935, and Lou Boedecker of Deer Lodge was selected as the first chief administrator. Estimates of the first pool of applicants range from 1500 to 3000, from which only 24 recruits were chosen to attend the first Highway Patrol Recruit Academy. The first academy was overseen by Captain Rudy Schmoke of the California Highway Patrol, after which much of the Montana Highway Patrol was patterned. The first recruit academy lasted from April 22, 1935, until May 21, 1935, with the first day of work following on May 22, 1935. Since its inception, the Montana Highway Patrol has striven to reduce fatalities by a combination of enforcement and education.
The Association of Montana Highway Patrolmen, now the Association of Montana Troopers (AMT), was initially founded in 1939, with articles of incorporation being filed in 1941. Originally started to aid troopers in their personal lives, the Association now provides additional benefits at retirement and college scholarship grants to the children of members and to the public as well. In addition, special donations are sometimes given to members with catastrophic or emergency circumstances. The Association is largely funded by membership dues and advertising sales from its bi-annual publication, Montana Trooper magazine. Private donations are also accepted, most notably by virtue of the AMT’s assistance with the Going to the Sun Car Rally and contributions to its endowment fund, Friends of the AMT.
Another major goal of the AMT is to interact with Montana youth. In a society where many of our children are at risk, the AMT strives to promote solid citizenship, a drug free life, and safety in automobile use.
In an effort to improve automobile safety in the state, the Association maintains the Little Convincer Seat Belt Program. Similar to the Seatbelt Convincer used for adults, this apparatus uses stuffed animals instead of people and is directed toward elementary school children. It strives to show the disastrous consequences of failing to wear automobile safety belts, and the effectiveness of safety belt restraints.
Among the Association’s primary focuses are community service and donations to various charitable causes, including the Special Olympics. But the pride of the Association is its creation and sponsorship of the Montana Hope Project, which began in 1984. Designed to grant critically ill Montana children with the fulfillment of their life’s wish, the Hope Project is predominantly a volunteer run organization, run largely by past and present troopers, as well as members of the community. It is funded exclusively by private and corporate donations, as well as large fund raisers such as the Ride for Hope, and receives no local, state, or federal funding. Hundreds of children have been recipients of wishes such as travel, computers, and visits with celebrities.
Seeking to serve both the public and Patrol troopers alike, the Association of Montana Troopers continues its efforts as a non-profit organization to improve safety and awareness among Montana’s citizens, and to give just a little more to the state of Montana.