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Belfield approves disband of its police department, moves forward with Stark County merger

The Belfield City Council approved Tuesday evening disbanding its one-man police department, which will then create a collaboration with the Stark County Sheriff’s Office to reassign the former Belfield Police Chief Steve Byrne as a deputy within the department.

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Belfield Police Chief Steve Byrne explains why the merger between the Belfield Police Department and the Stark County Sheriff's Office is vital in allowing for more back-up force to cover the city during Tuesday evening's public Belfield City Council meeting. Currently, Byrne is the only officer patrolling Belfield. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

The Belfield City Council approved a merger with the Stark County Sheriff’s Office earlier this week, which will disband its own police department. The one-man police department that includes Belfield Police Chief Steve Byrne will be considered for a full-time deputy and K-9 handler for Stark County.

The proposed three-year contract entails the possible sale of the cities’ vehicles and equipment, including its current K-9, Thor. The Belfield City Council and Stark County Sheriff’s Office are currently still working out the final details.

The merger with the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and Belfield Police Department will create more coverage in Belfield as well as having more experienced deputies on duty who can make better decisions, Byrne noted.

“Folks, I’m in a vulnerable position, especially with the law enforcement stigma out there of keeping things bottled up inside and not showing weakness,” Byrne said at the March 4 special public meeting . “But I’m screaming to you tonight that if I continue down this road, I’m going to burn out in the next year or two. Let’s work together to not just look for tomorrow or the next month, but for the next 10 to 15 years. Please understand that if we give this a chance, I can continue to be a strong presence in this community for many years to come.”

The merger stems from an overworked police chief as well as the dwindling retention rate of officers for small town departments.

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While smaller law enforcement agencies used to be the standard for towns such as South Heart, mergers are becoming the norm, Sheriff Corey Lee stated at a Jan. 12 meeting .

“You are seeing this across the United States that these smaller police departments are dissolving and going away. It’s just not cost effective,” Lee said.

The next Belfield City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, at the Belfield Theater where council members and Lee will revisit the contract.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSDICKINSONBELFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENTSTARK COUNTY
Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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