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Highway Patrol squad in Belle Fourche a response to ND oil boom

BELLE FOURCHE (AP) -- The South Dakota Highway Patrol is activating a four-person squad in the western city of Belle Fourche, in response to an increase in traffic associated with the booming oil patch in western North Dakota.

The Northern Plains Squad will have a sergeant and three troopers, Lt. Rick Miller told the media. The trooper positions are being funded with a grant through the federal Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program.

"It's a unique deal," Miller said. "We're starting new."

The squad starts work Monday, covering an area between Belle Fourche and the North Dakota border, and from the Wyoming border east to the Missouri River -- basically the northwest quadrant of the state. The focus will be on U.S. Highway 85 and S.D. Highway 79 northbound from Interstate 90.

Development of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota has led to increased traffic on those highways, which cross the border into North Dakota.

North Dakota last year passed Alaska to become the nation's second-leading oil producer, behind Texas. The boom is drawing people from around the country in search of jobs, leading to increases in population, traffic and crime. That has spilled over into northwest South Dakota.

South Dakota's state crime bureau also is considering stationing an agent in Belle Fourche, Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere said.