BELFIELD, N.D. — After months of discussions and debates, Belfield, North Dakota's city police force will merge with the Stark County Sheriff’s Office July 15.

In one last roll-call vote, the Belfield City Council unanimously approved the set date of the police merger Tuesday evening, June 8, during its regular meeting.

According to the merger contract, the Stark County Sheriff’s Office will acquire the police chief and add one additional deputy to cover in and around the city of Belfield, providing approximately 280 hours per month of law-enforcement presence.

The police merger arose from ongoing discussions that began in December 2020, when the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Corey Lee presented the Belfield City Council with a plan to bring the one-man police department of police Chief Steve Byrne under its wing as a deputy. This merger of disbanding Belfield’s police force initially received push back from both council members and the community.

Councilwoman Pam Gross was one of the council members who has previously questioned how this merger will benefit the city in the long run as opposed to hiring an additional police officer.

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Councilwoman Pam Gross listens to fellow council members during the Belfield City Council meeting Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
Councilwoman Pam Gross listens to fellow council members during the Belfield City Council meeting Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

“I really don’t have an opinion either way. I think Stark County (and) Corey has presented something that was very good. But yet at the same instance, we have a lot of residents that (are) saying, ‘Keep the police department,’” Gross said June 8. “... Is this the best thing for Belfield?”

In March, the Belfield City Council approved the merger. The process of forming a contract between Belfield and Stark County took a few months to finalize. Then in May, the Stark County Commission approved the merger contract.

At prior city council meetings, Lee has expressed that law enforcement agencies across the state and the country have experienced a difficulty in hiring officers. This is a way to move forward while keeping Byrne in the area, he said.

“It (took) a lot of work getting it lined up, it’s nice to have it done. It’s going to be a good thing,” Lee said.

"Nobody wants to lose their police department, that personal touch. It’s understandable. We all fear the unknown and they want the protection that they deserve and they just have what they’ve been used to for so many years. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised (by this).”

In Belfield, the struggle to retain those officers has been a defeated battle for Byrne as the police chief.

“We are going through difficult items; it’s not just our police department or our city, it’s throughout the country. We’re doing our best to adapt to what has been presented to us and critically think about how to best serve the community moving forward,” Byrne said in a previous story. “Small town departments are just struggling to find manpower and burnout is a real thing in first responder careers. People will leave this job to take a break and then they’ll come back.”

A vehicle from the Belfield Police Department is shown. The City of Belfield moves toward the disband of its forces and will merge together with the Stark County Sheriff's Office on July 15. The scheduled date was unanimously approved by the Belfield City Council Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
A vehicle from the Belfield Police Department is shown. The City of Belfield moves toward the disband of its forces and will merge together with the Stark County Sheriff's Office on July 15. The scheduled date was unanimously approved by the Belfield City Council Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Working 50 to 60 hours each week, Byrne was in favor of this contract to not only continue his career as a police officer but advance his role in the city of Belfield as a sheriff’s deputy.

“As a small town police officer, you really get to know the community that you serve. It’s the people you’re going to. (It’s) not just an address, but you’re going to a name and a name that you know," Byrne said. “You know the grandparents, the parents, the kids … Not losing that personal touch, I think that’s going to be a striving point moving forward to continue to keep that a strong asset for us.

“They’re going to get my very best effort and I think that effort is going ... (help me) have a life a little bit outside of the job, that’s going to be able to allow me to be that much fresh while on duty.”

With July right around the corner, Byrne will soon retire the blue thin line, black cruiser with dog prints — otherwise known as K-9 Thor's ride — for a white Stark County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.