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Rural law enforcement leaders from as far away as Alaska returned home Tuesday after a two-day seminar in Salt Lake City where they brainstormed about the issues of small-town policing.

"For the first time ever, instead of some major group . . . telling these people what their problems are . . . we wanted them to tell us so we could tell the decisionmakers," said Fred Wilson, project specialist with the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which directed the conference."We find that Western law enforcement, because of real estate . . . the mileage between each place, they develop unique strategies to deal with crime," he said.

Of the 18 police departments and 19 sheriff's offices represented at the Salt Lake conference, the average department size is 15 and 28 officers, respectively, Wilson said.

For participating police, the average population they serve is less than 9,000, with an average sheriff's jurisdiction of 29,000.

Those sheriffs at the conference work an area ranging from 702 to 10,000 square miles. Each deputy serves a population ranging from 330 people to 4,800 in a region measuring from 71/2 to 2,500 square miles each - statistics typical of rural, Western law enforcement, according to Wilson.

Only two Utahns were among the group this week - Price Police Chief Aleck Shilaos and Maxwell Jackson, chief of police for Harrisville, Weber County.

Their peers were apparently tied up with local responsibilities, Wilson said. Ironically, that dilemma is largely the basis for the conference project - management of rural police services with limited manpower, training and equipment. Small towns often face similar public safety responsibilities as their big-city counterparts but without such financial or institutional support.

The Salt Lake conference was the third of five such meetings held since February, following conferences in Little Rock and Knoxville, Tenn.

Sponsored by the institute's National Rural Law Enforcement Center Conferences, the meetings opened Monday with a keynote speech by Lee Colwell, a former associate director of the FBI who now serves as institute director.

Aside from Shilaos and Jackson, officers representing Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, New Mexico and Montana attended the seminar at the Red Lion Hotel.

Other regional seminars are scheduled for Portland, Maine and Omaha.