Montana’s Law Enforcement Academy, which trains every new cop in the state, is getting an upgrade over the next few years. Lawmakers approved $6 million, despite the tight budget year, to begin remodels in the academy for new officers.
Every new state, county and city law enforcement hire will spend at least 12 weeks on the 20-acre training center in the Helena Valley.
They study the law they’ll be enforcing, investigation techniques and human behavior, and run through situations in a scenario room, where new cops are put in life-size video games acting out scenes, and sometimes fire fights, playing on a large projector.
While some of the technology in the academy is slowly becoming more advanced, academy officials say the buildings on campus are old and need renovating to keep up with the educational programs. Most of the buildings on the campus were built between 1920 and 1960.
Attorney General Tim Fox says when he started running the Department of Justice four years ago he saw the need to update the academy.
“It’s a maintenance headache here,” says Fox.
In a media tour of the academy campus Tuesday, administrator Glen Stinar often mentioned, and sometimes joked about, the maintenance problems of the old buildings.
“It’s not uncommon to see one plumbing truck or electoral truck here. Sometimes we’ll see two, that’s really exciting," says Stinar. "This is the kind of stuff that we're dealing with. You had something that was put in in the 20's or 30's and then the plumber's going, 'Well, I don’t know what that is, but I know what that is,' and they find a way to make it work.”
After an interim study in 2016 looked into the DOJ request to remodel the training center, in the 2017 session, legislators authorized the funding.
“So we’re going to fix all the dorm buildings; we’re going to make the cafeteria bigger," Stinar says. "So we’re going to kind of get to where we need to be as a state facility for law enforcement. That will start next year and take about two years or so to get it done.”
The little over $6 million for remodeling is about half of the total funding needed to finish all the other renovations academy administrators are planning in their long term goal to update the campus, which includes a new scenario building and renovated classrooms.
But for now, Stinar says they have money for the dorms, which was the big ticket item, and construction on those will begin next spring.