Becker County dispatchers, deputies, investigators and other sheriff’s office personnel are back in their home space in the courthouse, but now there’s more elbow room, and that space is better organized.

Gone are the tiny rooms (one forced an officer to stand up and push his chair in, so another could get past) and offices that doubled as storage depots.

Walls were torn out, the kitchen was removed, and investigators now have their own semi-secluded room, drug task force members share an office for the first time, and deputies have a centralized work space with individual lockers.

There’s even a conference room with a table and seven or eight chairs. It can be accessed off the lobby or from the sheriff’s office.

Becker County Chief Deputy Shane Richard in the new conference room at the sheriff's office. Before the renovation project, there was no such space to talk to families, emergency responders, or other small groups, he said. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
Becker County Chief Deputy Shane Richard in the new conference room at the sheriff's office. Before the renovation project, there was no such space to talk to families, emergency responders, or other small groups, he said. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

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Dispatchers can talk to each other more easily, since they now work next to each other. “They used to be either in a corner, or with their backs to somebody,” said Communications Officer Supervisor Joan Stenger. “They couldn’t work side-by-side with a partner.”

The dispatch center has been upgraded with new desk technology, two mounted wall screens, and actual “dispatcher desks,” which easily raise and lower to let the communication officers work standing up or sitting down. They have digital maps that track squad car progress toward a caller, and they monitor some 20 security cameras in the courthouse and Human Services building a few blocks away.

Money to pay for the $1.27 million renovation came from a federal CARES Act grant to the county, to provide physical distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures.

A larger lobby with a ramp makes the sheriff’s office, built in 1978, easily accessible to people in wheelchairs, said Becker County Chief Deputy Shane Richard. The old system, which involved an elevator, calling dispatch, and accessing a steel door to the jail section, provided wheelchair access from the lobby to the sheriff’s office, “but it was cumbersome,” Richard said.

Three large security windows (including one now at wheelchair height, and one in a newly-created private area) allow people to talk to sheriff’s office staff, prior to being admitted into the office.

Becker County Sheriff's Sgt. Ty Warren at work in the new sergeants' office, which replaces a very cramped room in the sheriff's office. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
Becker County Sheriff's Sgt. Ty Warren at work in the new sergeants' office, which replaces a very cramped room in the sheriff's office. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

The idea behind creating large offices and new storage areas wasn’t just to create physical distance to prevent COVID-19 spread. It was also organizational. “It put people together who work together, Richard said.

A lot of it is little things, he added. A small breakroom was created that used to be part of the deputies area. “Now people can take a break and not disturb the deputies,” he said. The refitted evidence processing room is much easier to work in than the cubbyhole it replaced, and the evidence locker has doubled in size.

Soundproofing and other small improvements were made to the interview room. A supply office can now be opened by keypad instead of having to find the duty officer at night to open it up. “Even just a new coat of paint on some of this stuff helps,” Richard said. “It looks much nicer in here.”

The kitchen wasn’t needed anymore because the old upstairs jail is closed. That freed up room to create the new investigator’s room, Richard said. “They were pretty much back to back in the old space,” he said. “Now they have the space to do what they need to do.” There are three investigators on staff, with room for one more. “We could not have packed one more person into our old (investigator’s) office,” Richard said.

The new deputies' area in the sheriff's office offers a block of six workstations in the center and personal lockers around the walls. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
The new deputies' area in the sheriff's office offers a block of six workstations in the center and personal lockers around the walls. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

In the deputies area, 12 cubicles were removed and replaced with six workstations, two docking stations, roomy individual lockers, and an open storage room for individual emergency equipment duffle bags.

“All the deputies are together now,” Richard said. They used to have desks in three different areas of the sheriff’s office.

Because the 12 deputies work in three eight-hour shifts, there isn’t a shortage of workstations, Richard said. All have workstations in their squad cars as well.

There are 22 employees in the Becker County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Todd Glander, and they have been split up the past few months during construction., with deputies working out of the county workshop building on Eighth Street, and administrative staff were in the new jail building. There are another 10 people on the dispatching staff, and they were working in the emergency management center on the third floor of the courthouse.

“We still need to get settled,” Richard said, “but now we’re all back at the office -- it feels good to be under the same roof again.”