One-on-One with Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett

NBC15′s John Stofflet sits down with new Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett.
Published: May. 11, 2021 at 9:24 PM CDT|Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 10:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - On his second day on the job, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett sat down with NBC15′s John Stofflet for a one-on-one conversation about the historical significance of Barrett’s appointment as the first Black Dane County Sheriff, his views on policing policies like body cameras, his goal to reduce incarceration levels at the Dane County Jail, the transition from long-time Sheriff Dave Mahoney, and even how his time as a Badger (Barrett played for the Badger Football team) has come in handy in his police work over the years.

Governor Tony Evers appointed Barrett to fill out Mahoney’s term when Mahoney announced his retirement after 14 years heading up the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.

John Stofflet: So you’ve been a police officer in Sun Prairie, a Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy, but also a Wisconsin Badger. What did you learn in football that pertains to policing? Did you learn some lessons there?

Kalvin Barrett: Absolutely. Number one you learn about being part of a team, and the importance of that. Seeing how the little piece that you play plays a bigger role in the team, but also our profession as well as law enforcement officers. I learned discipline, I learned how to work in difficult situations--how to work under stress, how to multi-task as a student-athlete, but also to get two educations at once--education as an athlete, but also education as a student in the Sociology program I graduated from. So that’s very similar to being in law enforcement, where you’re working and getting an education on people, but also on the law as well.

JS: Second day as sheriff. You’re following in the footsteps of Sheriff Dave Mahoney…14+ years.

KB: It’s been great. He’s been fantastic since my appointment. He reached out over the phone, and it was one of the most special moments of my time so far as when he referred to me as ‘Sheriff.’ That was a special moment on the phone. He told me he supported me at that moment and he brought me in that next Monday to get me familiar with a lot of the workings of the department, and we’ve been working side-by-side for the past three and a half weeks in preparation for this smooth transition, which I was able to move into on Monday.

JS: Sheriff, you’re the first Black Sheriff in Dane County. What does that historical significance mean to you personally?

KB: It means a lot. It means that before, someone that looked like me, someone that is viewed by society like me, someone who grew up in a similar situation like me, never had somebody to look up. They never had somebody to point to and say, ‘I can be that. I can be that person.’ And on Monday and moving forward for the rest of my career someone can say that. Right? I’m going to open the doors for the first African-American female, the first LatinX individual, the first LGBTQ Sheriff. So this is the opening of the opportunities that will just take us in the right direction in regards of getting proper representation at all levels of law enforcement.

JS: So how does it feel on your second day? Are you going, ‘Oh, my God, why did I get into this?’ or are is it like (Barrett laughs) ‘this is going to be fun’, or are you somewhere in between?

KB: Yes, I’m in between. It’s a lot…but that’s what this is about, it’s about that challenge. What I tell my daughters, what I told my students when I coached them, what I tell our Academy recruits when they’re in our law enforcement academy, is you will grow the most when you are outside of your comfort zone. That’s when you grow. A lot of us feel safe and comfortable when we’re in that little (zone)…it’s safe, it’s nice. It’s comfortable. I was at Madison College, I had my curriculum set up 4-1/2 years.

Holidays off, summers, weekends, things were great. I was getting ready for a 3 month vacation May 15th…but I thought, this was the opportunity for change and to inspire. And in order for me to create the society that I want for my daughters and my grandchildren to grow up in, I had to make a choice to be in a leadership position to be in a position to influence the next generation of law or peace officers here in Dane County.

JS: You mentioned that one of your goals is to sort of mend fences. I think we’ve all seen over the last year just how divided this country is: How there are many examples of people of color not being treated the same way in the eyes of law enforcement. Have you experienced that yourself as a citizen? Run-ins with law enforcement you felt were unwarranted, or just felt like you were treated differently?

KB: There have been numerous times where I’ve felt I’ve been treated differently--not being able to understand specifically why I was treated differently. There’s always the assumptions. But I have been treated differently, in all realms of society and so have my family members and my children. I think it’s an accumulation of the good and bad experiences that have allowed me to have such a great perspective as Sheriff.

JS: What do you say to all of the residents of Dane County, but specifically to those in communities of color. What are you going to do to try to reach out?

KB: I think Number one is community engagement and asking questions and listening. I think a lot of the times in law enforcement, we get so caught up in talking that a lot of times we’re not really listening, and asking those important questions that are needed for us to understand where we can improve and what the concerns of the community are. So I think it starts with the community engagement, asking questions, listening, dialogue, transparency, and accountability.

JS: As we approach the anniversary of the death…the murder...of George Floyd, what is the message you hope we have learned in the past year from that tragedy?

KB: I think number one from watching that trial, which I did very closely, it was seeing the police chief and other law enforcement officers come out and speak very clearly on the wrong actions…and what was done by the officer was wrong. I think that was the first step in us moving forward in saying when someone does something wrong in our profession, we are going to hold each other accountable and point out those wrong actions...and say it loud and clear to the entire community that it’s wrong, and that we don’t accept those behaviors.

JS: I think we all know that most cops are good people with good intentions. What do you say to your force to keep their morale up at this time when a number of people seem to be questioning police?

KB: Right, I think we really need to focus on what we can control, and that’s ourselves, and our department and each other. It’s on each and every one of us to make sure our morale is up, and that we are creating an environment that makes us able to communicate with one another, to vent as needed, but also be there for support for one another right now. Because that’s what we need right now more than anything is supporting one another as we move through these challenging times.

JS: I know you’d like to see lower incarceration levels. We have more people in jail and prison in the United States per capita than any other country in the world. So how do you keep people from going to jail when it’s not necessary?

KB: Solving that issue is bigger than the criminal justice system. It’s our health care system, it’s our employment system, it’s our housing—all the things that we see in society that really contribute to people coming to jail and being incarcerated. We really control one piece—and it’s a big piece, that being the criminal justice system. And in that we want to make sure we have diversionary programs and evidence-based programs to ensure that we are getting people who do not pose a significant threat to the community put and about so that they can be with their families, maintain their family relationships, maintain their employment, and still be able to be held accountable for their actions and but not face the harsh realities of incarceration.

JS: You and your deputies are not wearing a body camera. Do you think Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies should have them?

KB: It’s definitely something to look into and consider. At this point, I’m fairly new into the position and want to understand and assess where we’re at. I know there’s a lot that goes into body-worn cameras than just the apparatus. There’s the privacy of our citizens, there’s the privacy of the officers, there’s the cost related not just to the apparatus itself, but to the storage of it--to combing through the body cameras to use for evidentiary value. There’s a lot that goes into that, and that’s something that needs to be assessed while I’m in the office here in the first hundred days.

JS: In the last year, we’ve heard the call for removing some of the day-to-day duties of law enforcement officers—pulling people over for a tail light out for example—and giving that to “traffic monitors”, the same way we do parking violations through parking monitors. What do you think of that idea as a way to decrease the risk of violent escalation for something like a busted tail light?

KB: I think it’s something that’s interesting and worth a conversation. But I would like to point out that a lot of times when we see those incidents go wrong, and it turns into a violent encounter--whether from the citizen or from the law enforcement officer--that those are really isolated incidents and that law enforcement officers pull people over for minor traffic violations and other violations thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times a day and that it doesn’t always turn into something bad. So, I definitely think it’s worth a conversation and to explore, but I think the current system that we have right now is working to some extent fairly safely.

JS: Your message to Dane County residents—whether they live in DeForest or Downtown Madison. What type of Sheriff do you hope to be for them?

KB: I hope to be a friendly and engaging Sheriff that they can come and speak their opinions and discuss different topics and ideas. I have an open-door policy. I want to friendly, available, and approachable to all citizens—whether they’re in the City of Madison, or in the outskirts of our county jurisdictions. And know that they can count on me to do the right thing at the right time and that they can trust my decision making and my leadership as the next Dane County Sheriff.

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