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BCSO to assist COVID-depleted GB police
Steps taken to protect sheriff deputies, staff, public
bt co jail picweb
The Barton County Sheriff’s Office will assist the Great Bend Police department with calls while the GBPD has officers out due to COVID-19. - photo by Tribune file photo

The COVID-19 virus has torn through the Great Bend Police Department ranks, leaving it short-staffed, Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir told the County Commission. He has OKed the Sheriff’s Office to step in and assist, but warned this may deplete his overtime budget for the year.

“I received a call last Wednesday from the captain at the Police Department,” Bellendir said. “They’re running out of personnel.”

Officers have been working 12-hour shifts for five, six or seven days straight without any time off, he said. Detectives are also joining uniformed officers on street patrols.

“They asked for assistance,” he said. “They may or may not have personnel available to respond to calls.”

Effective last Wednesday, 911 will notify BCSO of any unattended death, any homicide, any suicide, aggravated battery, robbery, or other serious crime, and a sheriff’s deputy will respond.

“We’re going to dispatch a sheriff’s officer to any of those,” the sheriff said. “And one of our command officers will be notified in the event we would need to run a concurrent investigation.”

This is within his authority, he said. “I have to do what I have to do to protect the citizens of the county,” he said. “The city is within Barton county it’s within my jurisdiction.”

This is not unprecedented and many sheriff’s offices do it, he said. It just hasn’t happened here for quite a while.

“I have also allowed sheriff’s deputies to volunteer for overtime at peak times of activity, Friday night, Saturday nights,” Bellendir said. He is also allowing one extra deputy per shift to assist the city with any routine calls.

“My overtime budget was at 58% used. I should be at 56% used,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to continue this. It is going to depend upon what develops over there, and it’s going to quite frankly depend upon what develops in the other police departments (in the county).”

So, “this is probably going to wreck my overtime budget,” he said. “I’ll probably still come in under budget.”

“I appreciate your willingness to work with the City of Great Bend and step in when it’s needed because you know they’re all our citizens, they’re all taxpayers,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “I also appreciate the steps that you’ve taken to keep your staff safe. And I hope that that continues for you.”

Protecting his own

Now, he wants to keep his department from facing the same fate as the GBPD, he said. He has canceled the end-of-shift briefings to limit officers from personal contacts.

“It only makes sense to me that you don’t want to expose every shift, so we were going to stop that,” he said. There’s not much he can do in the jail, but he can limit interactions between the other divisions and elsewhere.

“I’m not requiring cops to wear masks on the street at this time,” he said, but he expects them to use common sense if they’re going to have to get out and go inside a house.

As for some good news, Bellendir said the jail is no longer under quarantine restrictions. “I have no known cases in the facility, nobody is symptomatic. So we were released from quarantine Saturday.”

The three cases they did have were never symptomatic and were released into the general population. Even so, any new prisoners are isolated for 10 days.

The jail staff are required to wear personal protective equipment, as is any other officer entering the center, he said. In addition, “we’re aggressively cleaning and fogging the facility.”

He has purchased a fruit orchard fogger and used a chemical to spray things down regularly.

Also, “I am going to continue to suspend visitation and walk-in VIN inspections,” he said. “I just don’t want the general public coming in there for two reasons – we could expose them they could expose us.”

He said he is basically running a “nursing home for criminals.”  “We’re in the same position as the nursing homes are with a confined population.”

With the flu and cold season approaching, he his being extra cautious with his staff. “I don’t want to take risks.”

So, if somebody calls in sick or presents with symptoms consistent with COVID, that person is tested.