Local troopers take part in Lip Sync Challenge

August 5, 2018

On Tuesday, July 25, the Montana Highway Patrol Facebook page released their version of the Lip Sync Challenge video. In one week it has gained nearly two thousand comments, 19 thousand shares and more than 564,000 views. Two of the troopers involved are from District VI, the Kalispell district.

Troopers Laramie Stefani and Noah Pesola, who regularly patrol the Flathead, joined forces with Missoula Troopers TJ Templeton and Wes Whitlach to create the video. They faced several challenges - even getting these four Troopers together was a hurdle that had to be overcome. They specifically picked a day when there were enough other troopers to cover all the affected areas and they remained ready and available for a call to respond, if needed. Despite the challenges, the four of them came together to create a fun-loving video.

Col. Tom Butler, the top Montana Highway Patrol officer for the state, described the response to the video as phenomenal. “I was amazed at the numbers in the first 24 hours” said Butler. “I didn’t imagine we would see that.” Butler had seen other departments compete in the challenge and receive positive responses. “This helps with both our safe driving and our enforcement efforts,” said Butler.

The video project began with Pesola and Templeton. They are among the so-called “Tweeting Troopers,” troopers across the state who regularly share information and insights on social media as a way of engaging the public. “Trooper Templeton and I were at a training. We got to talking and decided we should move forward with the challenge. At that point Laramie got roped in,” said Pesola.

Roped in is a bit of a theme for this project. Whitlach describes his part in the video as follows: “We have a saying in law enforcement: if you are made to look like you volunteered for something when you really didn’t, then you were actually ‘voluntold.’ I was voluntold by Templeton,” said Whitlach with a bit of a smile.

Whitlach has a background in video work, which is how he managed to be the only one to not make an appearance in the film. He researched the song, picked the location, and did all the cutting and editing after it was shot.

The song, “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction, came with its own challenge for some. “I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall watching Laramie jam to this over and over” said Pesola, who did not struggle with the music.

Pesola admits he knew the song, a fact he attributes to having four sisters. “I grew up with boy bands,” said Pesola. He also admits he did not have to purchase the song and, according to Whitlach, Pesola is a lifelong fan of One Direction.

The filming was completed in just two hours. Trooper Stefanie said that afterwards he was certain that what they had created could best be described as “mad hot garbage.” He even texted Whitlatch and told him to delete it all because he was convinced it was going to prove worthless. “Wes just said, ‘Dude, trust me.’ And I did,” said Stefani.

“The moment I saw Trooper Templeton in a red wig I knew we had something good and I knew we’d be alright,” said Whitlach “Honestly we didn’t really know what would come out of it,” said Templeton. All of the troopers make a point of giving credit to Whitlach for the video. They had to embarrass themselves to create it, but he put it together and made it work. “He deserves so much credit for what he did,” said Stefani. “Hats off to him!”

For all three of the troopers in front of the lens, the Lip Sync Challenge shoved them well outside their comfort zones. When first asked, Templeton told them frankly that he was not going to be a part of this. “I don’t sing. I don’t dance. But my kids laughed even at the idea of it,” said Templeton. It was their laughter that sold him on taking part.

As for the results - the troopers are thrilled. Pesola and Stefani have been recognized at crash scenes by their fellow first responders. Stefani has some construction going on near his home and got a bit of ribbing from the workers asking where his wig went. A few times they’ve been recognized while on traffic stops, at hospitals, at the post office.

All three in the video have been recognized in court; they describe that embarrassment as painful. “Now, whenever I tell people what I do for a living, their first question is: are you in the video?” said Pesola.

In spite of being embarrassed for themselves, the troopers are happy with the results. “I don’t mind being a clown for the Highway Patrol if it lets the public see that cops are real,” said Templeton. More than anything, all of the troopers hoped to convey that they are real people behind the badges and uniforms. “Our goal was to do something people could enjoy, something lighthearted and fun,” said Stefani. “Something to let them know that we’re not robots, not monsters out here trying to make people’s lives more difficult.”

And with that goal they have had great success. Of almost two thousand comments, most are resoundingly positive.

“That first guy can pull me over any day,” said Corey Vancamp in a Facebook comment about the 6′5 Trooper Pesola.

“Love to see you guys having so much fun. Thanks for your service,” said Kate Held.

“You goofballs!... these personalities....loved it. The high five was my favorite part,” said Jamie Soper.

“How fun! My family loves watching all these cop lip sync videos. My son wants to be a cop and watching you guys have fun made his day, thank you,” said Susie Kraft.

There were a few negative commenta; some people spoke up about tax dollars and wasted resources. The Montana Highway Patrol responded with a comment: “We pay taxes too. Here’s a question for you: why is it okay for inaccurate and often misleading claims to be made about the law enforcement profession but we can’t do anything to combat that or humanize the profession? Community involvement/engagement is our business and part of the job. If this video made one person smile and relate to law enforcement more positively, then mission accomplished. Better community/police relations makes all of our lives better and safer.”

“I think it’s important for any department to budget a certain amount of time to public relations and to getting to know the community,” said Whitlach. “In order for the community to have trust in a law enforcement agency they have to be an agency that is approachable and likable. This video was working toward that goal.”

“Law Enforcement Officers put on a uniform and go out every day, but they’re still real people, who have differing views and who like to have fun,” said Col. Butler. “This video may even put a different face on the agency in terms of how we engage the community in Montana.”

In passing the torch for the Lip Sync Challenge the Montana Highway Patrol decided to publicly call out the Great Falls Police Department. This is mostly because the two departments have a strong relationship and some of the upper management staff at both are good friends.

Great Falls has stepped up. In a comment on Facebook they responded: “Well played MHP, well played. Challenge accepted! This will be hard to top but we will give it our best shot. GFPD lip sync vide coming soon.”

Until then, for those interested in seeing more from the Tweeting Troopers, they can be found on Twitter at @TrooperPesola, @TrooperStefani, @Trooper_TJ, and @MTHwyPatrol.

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