Thirteen new troopers will hit the roads this summer with the South Dakota Highway Patrol. The recruits will spend nearly nine months training for officer survival, crash and DUI investigations, and firearms training, just to name a few areas.
Mastering the use of firearms is one of several training requirements before the thirteen new recruits can officially become a state trooper. Senior firearms trainer Tony Maunu has been with the Highway Patrol 15 years and has had to pull his gun five times in the line of duty.
"With our job, there always is the possibility that we could use the firearm. It's important any time we pull the trigger on any one of the weapon systems that we are proficient with that," Maunu said.
It’s not a requirement that the recruits come to the academy with any firearms experience. The first 40 hours of training involves the fundamentals, such as what type of grip to have on your gun and how to load and reload quickly.
“I have quite a bit of experience with long guns. I hunted with my dad for the most part of my life. As far as pistols go, what I’ve had in the academy is about the extent of it,” trooper recruit Casey Bassett said.
“I first grabbed the pistol several months ago and my hands were shaking. I was so nervous; so, many buttons and levers. And now it's becoming a part of your uniform, a part of your body, second nature,” trooper recruit Campbell said.
On the day we visited, the difficulty of the training goes up.
“We’re training them to fight under stress,” Maunu said.
Advanced tactics training involves recreating some of the physical and mental challenges troopers might face in the field, in a controlled environment.
“We want to expose them to that stress so it becomes commonplace. So, when they do have the stressful situation, that they can react appropriately,” Maunu said.
When it comes time to pull the trigger, recruits are taught to shoot for the chest, or the center of mass. It is most likely to neutralize the threat.
"That might mean two shots. That might mean multiple shots. We shoot until the threat is gone," Maunu said.
“It’s something I’ve kind of come to grips with. I went into this job knowing there might be a day I have to protect myself, my family or the public. So, it's something I know I need to do if the time arises,” Campbell said.
“It’s not something I’m overly excited about. It’s not something I’m terrified about. It’s just something I have to accept,” Bassett said.
Maunu says the patrol provides 23 weeks of top notch training to give recruits every confidence when they graduate and become state troopers that they can handle any situation that comes with the job.
The Highway Patrol trains about a dozen new recruits each year.