Next Strasburg police chief has plans to combat drug crisis

Wayne Sager

STRASBURG — When he becomes police chief sometime in January or early February, Capt. Wayne Sager plans to  focus on combating drug abuse.

“That I would probably say, is my number one passion, is fighting the war on drugs,” Sager said.

A Strasburg resident growing up, Sager, 36, has spent his working career in various positions within the Strasburg Police Department.

In five of those years, he worked with the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force, which he said has given him an understanding of how to respond to the opioid epidemic.

The task force “allowed me to experience law enforcement not only in our community but outside our community,” Sager said. “And develop those regional partnerships throughout the commonwealth.”

As the opioid epidemic reaches a projected record number of deaths this year, law enforcement officers and health professionals have been debating about the balance to strike between enforcing drug laws and providing treatment to people with substance abuse problems. Sager said that, as a law enforcement officer, his job will be to enforce the drug laws.

“We’re not in the realm of treatment,” Sager said, referring to the Strasburg Police Department. “Our job is to enforce. However, I think that we can educate and we can provide resources for treatment.”

Part of that educational role, Sager said, would involve letting people know where they could receive treatment.

“To sit down and say that we do treatment, we do not,” Sager said. “But we extend that lifeline to know where those treatments and where those resources are in our community.”

Sager said that he also plans on working with treatment providers.

As an example, Sager pointed toward an event he announced during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. On Oct. 25, the town and the Shenandoah County Family Youth Initiative will be holding a screening of a documentary about substance abuse.

In addition to focusing on the opioid crisis, Sager said that he wanted to largely maintain the practices the police department has today.

“Strasburg has been on the safest cities list for the last five years … and I want to continue with that,” Sager said.

The Town Council officially voted to select Sager as the next police chief on Tuesday, after having come to an unofficial consensus during a closed session the previous week. Sager will take the job after current Police Chief Tim Sutherly retires.

Once Sager becomes chief, he will be receiving just over $75,000 a year, Town Manager Wyatt Pearson stated in an email. According to figures from the town’s website, Sager will be overseeing a department that has 17 full-time officers.

Mayor Rich Orndorff said that he was looking for a police chief who would be a visible presence in the community.

“I still want the citizens to know our police department and particularly our police chief as being a friendly department and an approachable department,” Orndorff said. “I want them to see the chief out on the streets.”

Orndorff described that as a common view among council members and one of the reasons why the Town Council liked the choice of Sager.

“We wanted to see the chief out more among the public, among the people,” Orndorff said. “And Capt. Sager has been doing that in his role as captain.”

But Orndorff added that each council member had differing views of what they were hoping to see in the next police chief.