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Washington County prosecutor launches crime prevention program

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput

The cases are common: Washington County residents are duped into identity theft scams, victimized in fraud schemes or preyed upon in cyber crimes.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said successful local prosecution of those crimes is not a slam dunk, however, because in some cases the perpetrators are outside county prosecutors' jurisdiction, part of a national or even global scam and can be hard to track down.

After his first eight months in office, Orput said he has seen enough of those cases to warrant a new program aimed at arming citizens with information to help them avoid becoming victims. Prosecutors in Orput's office this fall will begin reaching out to residents in area business groups, civic clubs, nursing homes, senior centers and other community groups to share crime prevention tips and information.

"If I can't get my hands around the neck of the perp who did it, I think I'm obligated to get out and teach (residents) how not to become victims," Orput said.

Orput announced the crime prevention initiative last week and said groups can contact his office anytime to request a prosecutor meet with them. He is asking the assistant county attorneys to volunteer to participate.

Typically, prosecutors' offices are reactive, Orput said. They wait for criminal cases to come to them, and then they prosecute them. The new initiative is an attempt to be more proactive.

Prosecutors will have presentations on consumer crimes and will be available to answer citizens' questions.

"It's all common sense," Orput said.

The prosecutors would gladly collaborate with local police departments and authorities in Washington County if that would help spread the word, Orput said.

Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said he and others in his department already speak to local business groups and senior citizens about identity theft and other crimes.

Woolery welcomed Orput's plan.

"Whatever form that takes, we'd be more than glad (to participate)," he said.

Community groups or residents interested in scheduling a speaker can call the Washington County Attorney's Office at (651) 430-6151.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600