By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana Highway Patrol established a new district office in Havre Monday which will coordinate 16 troopers patrolling eight counties and three Indian reservations.
State Attorney General Mike McGrath, area Highway Patrol troopers, and local law enforcement agencies were present at the grand opening ceremony, each touting the benefits of introducing a new district.
"For us it makes our operations more efficient while improving public safety," McGrath said.
The district, the state's eighth, was established with that in mind, he added.
Previously, the Havre detachment office was supervised by Great Falls, Highway Patrol District 2, which oversaw 16 counties including Hill County.
"It was very difficult to supervise" that large an area, McGrath said.
Havre's district office took over half of what was previously Great Falls' area. Havre's portion of the state runs from East Glacier to Malta, including Phillips, Blaine, Hill, Liberty, Toole, Glacier, Chouteau and Pondera counties, as well as the Rocky Boy's, Fort Belknap and Blackfeet Indian reservations.
"While this reorganization makes us more efficient, it doesn't get more officers for patrol," McGrath said.
The added workforce consists only of the Havre district captain, Butch Huseby, and one administrative assistant in Havre. In fact, McGrath said, Montana has the same number of troopers as it did 30 years ago, something he hopes next year's Legislature will change. In the meantime, he said, efficiency is crucial.
Havre will oversee two detachment offices, one in Havre, the other in Shelby. Lone troopers that were stationed in other areas, such as Malta and Fort Benton, will now report to Havre rather than to Great Falls.
For some troopers, the new district means shaving miles and possibly even hours off of a drive to the district office, while for others, the difference is negligible.
Brad Sangrey is the only trooper in Cut Bank. He said he is driving only 10 miles fewer to Havre than he did to Great Falls, but even this will not save time because previously those were interstate miles, and now he will be driving on the highway. But even where some troopers have a longer drive, there are added benefits.
"I think it's going to put more tools at our disposal ... for crash investigation and things like that," trooper Scott Waddell said.
McGrath also said that the new district will mean additional attention to the region.
"This way we can be more responsive to northern tier and the Hi-Line issues," McGrath said.
Fatalities are tracked by district and north-central Montana now has its own count, maintained through the Havre office.
Huseby said that the new district would also enable Highway Patrol to coordinate with other area law enforcement agencies, such as Havre-based U.S. Border Patrol.
In a news release from his office, Huseby said, "In rural Montana, no one law enforcement agency has the resources to do everything, so it's important that we work together."
Huseby is a Conrad native and has been detachment commander in Great Falls for the past 11 years. He was transferred to Havre on Nov. 1 to begin organizing the district. The Havre detachment office moved to its new location in October, in preparation for the state's reorganization.
Havre Highway Patrol's new location is 1708 Second Street West, a facility designed for both the district and detachment offices. The phone number for Havre Highway Patrol is (406) 265-6420.