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New Montana Highway Patrol colonel says illegal drugs and crime challenge to troopers

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Posted at 12:48 AM, Apr 12, 2024

BILLINGS - The new man in charge of the Montana Highway Patrol came to Billings on Thursday afternoon.

Colonel Kurt Sager, with 21 years of service to the agency, took over for retired Colonel Steve Lavin, on April 2.

Sager talked about some of the challenges for troopers.

 “All of our troopers on the road will encounter people that are engaged in criminal activity,” Sager said.  “Sometimes it is drugs. Sometimes it's human trafficking,” Sager said. “They’re running drugs, whether it be meth or fentanyl or, or any other number of drugs, and a lot of times with that we run into weapons and other criminal activity.”

He says much of the drug activity is around fentanyl.

His boss, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, announced last month that in Montana in 2023, dosage units of fentanyl have increased 20,000 percent compared with 2019.

“I'm sure a lot of it is tied to cartels shipped in from elsewhere either coming up from Mexico or wherever,” Sager said. “We are seeing a lot of a lot of our drugs coming from different areas and mostly it's probably coming up from the south.”

 Another issue he will look to solve on his watch is a staffing shortage.

He says the highway patrol employs more than 260, down about 10 percent.

“We want to make sure that we're hiring people with the highest levels of integrity, that are law-abiding citizens that want to go protect and serve, and to have the qualities to be a law enforcement officer,” Sager said.

Sager has been the top man at the MHP for almost two weeks.

He started as a trooper 21 years ago in Circle and most recently, he played a major role in opening the MHP's new facility in Boulder.

“You don't do the job for kudos,” Sager said. “If you did, you'd have a very short career.”

And thanks to his roots, Sager has a great appreciation for all troopers. knowing just how dangerous a job that can be.

“We have to have a service mentality,” Sager said. “If you don't, the job, there's not enough other things to draw somebody to it if you don't want to serve. You do it to serve people and to help those that are in need and to protect Montana citizens and make the state a better place for your family to live. And law enforcement is a huge key to that to make it a healthy community and make it a place that you can raise a family.”