BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Overwhelming call loads and officer shortages is the reality the Great Bend Police Department is facing after more than two dozen employees have either tested positive or are in quarantine for COVID-19.
The exposures have impacted officers from command to patrol, straining the Great Bend Police Department’s rank-and-file and making it difficult to keep up with the call load.
The department has even been forced to start moving their detectives to patrol.
However, the Barton County Sheriff’s Office is now offering their help to keep up with the demand.
Normally, the two agencies work hand-in-hand assisting each other when needed, but due to the lack of manpower, the sheriff’s office has been pulled in to help play a larger role.
Barton County 911 will now dispatch sheriff’s deputies to calls in corporate city limits, including cases of aggravated robbery, homicide, or death.
“When our officers are busy on various types of situations and so on, if another call comes out, you know, then they’re stepping up and taking those,” said David Bailey, Great Bend Police Chief.
The sheriff’s office is also patrolling one extra officer per shift to help cover city limits and is allowing officers to volunteer during peak call hours such as Friday and Saturday nights.
“It is my view that we have to step up. I am supported by tax money, and I am elected by the people. I need to assist those people when we have to and if that means assisting police departments, we certainly will,” said Brian Bellendir, Barton County Sheriff.
The downside of the extra support is the sheriff says the department has already used up 58% of their overtime budget. This is 2% higher than where they should be this time of year.
“My officers are volunteering to come out and work overtime. I have to pay that out of my budget. But this is just one of those things you have to do,” said Bellendir.
The hit in the budget, although is a concern, is not the top priority.
Sheriff Bellendir says it’s his responsibility to assist the county as a whole and to protect the safety of all those that live there, and with the unpredictability of the virus, he says one day they may be the ones asking for assistance.
“Maybe someday we’re going to need help. I don’t know,” said Bellendir.
The sheriff believes that after speaking with the county administrators and commission, there may be some supplemental funding that could help make up for the potential budget shortfall, but there are no specifics or set plans in place at the moment.
The sheriff’s office plans to continue to assist as long as they are needed, but as of now, they are not sure what that timeline looks like.
Currently, there are no sheriff’s office employees that have tested positive for COVID-19 and to help mitigate any spread, the department has canceled briefings, has limited in-person contact, and promotes mask-wearing.