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Boom Busters: A Look at Law Enforcement

Montana Journalism Review is cranking into full-time work on our print edition, but we’re still taking a bit of time to talk about another odd bit of Montana trivia. As stories start to stack up on our desks, here’s another Boom Busters.

This week, we’ll look at the seal for a group of people you likely wish you don’t have to see up close. A little hint: they have wide-brimmed hats, black cars and even a catchphrase, “Do you know how fast you were going back there?”

On the patch of every Montana Highway Patrol officer uniform, there is a series of numbers under the state seal. It is a short string, “3-7-77” and the weirdest part is, nobody seems to know what it stands for. There is no record on why it was put on the logo, or a clear policy on what it refers to.

It’s certainly not the only strange law enforcement reference. The U.S. Department of Justice has a similar issue on its seal. The Latin phrase, “Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur,” has never been fully explained. It doesn’t appear to have a clear translation, and the DOJ doesn’t have any documentation on when it was adopted, or why.

The Justice Department even issued a letter 20 years ago with its best clarification of the motto. It is, as you might guess, thrilling reading. The closest answer it comes to is that the rough translation from Latin means, “who prosecutes on behalf of justice (or the Lady Justice),” and refers to the head of the DOJ, the Attorney General. But it also describes a true translation of the motto as “hopeless” because individual words have been changed and altered through the years.

There are several theories out there as to the origins of 3-7-77. The numbers were once the symbol of the Montana Vigilantes, who disbanded in the late 1800s. They used the numbers as a marker to tell people that it was time to get out of town, or else. The actual numbers could refer to anything from the amount of time a person has left to leave, to the size of the grave they will be buried in if they don’t. A highway patrol spokesperson told us that the department doesn’t have a better answer, only that it is “tradition” for 3-7-77 to be a part of the shoulder patch.