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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published March 12 2012

ND officials to attend oil patch crime summit

BISMARCK – Federal law enforcement officials plan to meet this week with sheriffs and police chiefs from western North Dakota to develop a strategy against potential organized crime in the state’s booming Oil Patch.

U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon and the FBI are hosting the three-day meeting that begins Tuesday in Denver.

The goal is for law enforcement to be proactive in combating the possibility of organized crime, such as drugs and prostitution in oil country, Purdon said.

“A lot of the local law enforcement folks are in a 100 percent reactive mode, just answering calls,” Purdon said. “What’s missing is the proactive piece: guarding against organized criminal activity.”

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and officials from about 20 local law enforcement agencies are expected to attend, with the federal government helping fund travel and other expenses, Purdon said. He did not immediately know the cost of the summit.

Oil company officials also have been invited, Purdon said. The companies will be asked to help identify unregistered sex offenders who may be working in the region, he said.

Purdon said the summit is being held in Denver due to lack of meeting space in western North Dakota. Several companies working in the Oil Patch also are based in Denver, he said.

Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching said neither he nor anyone from his department of 34 sworn deputies could attend the summit because of a heavy workload. The county is in the heart of North Dakota’s oil rush and Williston is its biggest city.

“We got a lot going on but so do the hospitals, clinics, schools and road crews,” he said.

Williston Police Chief Jim Lokken is slated to attend the summit.

Organized crime has yet to gain a foothold in the region, Busching said.

“I don’t think they’re here,” Busching said of coordinated criminal syndicates. “Right now it just seems to be freelancers. But I don’t know for sure because if they are that well organized, we wouldn’t know.”