Kalvin Barrett Is Dane County’s Interim Sheriff: Serving with Compassion

Kalvin Barrett

Kalvin Barrett will bring compassion for everyday Dane County citizens to his job as interim sheriff, a post he has set his sights on several years ago

Part 2 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

Kalvin Barrett can be an imposing figure when you meet him. After all, he was a defensive lineman on the UW-Madison football team in the early 2000s. I’m sure it wasn’t hard for him to intimidate opposing offensive linemen. But talk to Barrett for a few moments, and it is his humanity and compassion that radiate from his big smile.

Barrett has served in law enforcement in Dane County for over 10 years, most recently with the Sun Prairie Police Department. And he has taught at Madison College for the past several years. Barrett ultimately aspired to become Dane County’s next sheriff and was carefully and methodically preparing himself for the day when opportunity may come a knocking.

And on January 19th, the opportunity became very real when Dane County Sheriff Mahoney announced that he would be retiring effective May 9th. The chase and the process were on. And of course, Barrett applied to Governor Tony Evers to be appointed interim sheriff for Dane County.

The foundation of Barrett’s philosophy is his “but by the grace go I” attitude about the people the sheriff’s department comes in contact with and/or house in the county jail. And it is this appreciation for people’s humanity that guides Barrett’s approach to policing. While his decision is the bottom line, he desires other people’s opinions, perspectives and facts before making policy decisions. Since his appointment, Barrett has already been transitioning with Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

“We started building on a relationship that we started years ago,” Barrett said. “He and I have met and have had discussions about a lot of things including his position, what he likes about the job and things that could be improved overall. Starting on Monday, he invited me in and has been doing a great job of just ensuring that there is going to be a smooth transition starting May 9th when he officially retires.”

Barrett believes in leading by example. And while he is the person appointed to provide the overall vision and direction to the department, he also appreciates the experience and knowledge of those with whom he works. From his days playing as a UW Badger, Barrett knows that there is no “I” in team.

“I expect my executive team staff and my frontline supervisors to treat officers and deputies with respect, listening to what they have to say and really leaning on their experiences and their leadership in policing, to really make decisions as a collective team,” Barrett said. “And I think that is what is going to lead to the success. I am going to trust everyone in the department to bring to light things and ideas from an evidentiary and data-based perspective that can be successful so that we all can win. And I believe that is important in regards to building a culture of buy-in and that everyone in the Dane County Sheriff’s Department believes that no matter if it is your first day on the job or your 30th year on the job. If you have a great idea, a great suggestion with a solution, that it will be implemented if it is what is best for team.”

When asked about the racial disparities that exist in Dane County’s criminal justice system, while he is committed to seeking solutions, he also recognizes that some of the solutions are beyond his department’s control.

“There have been a lot of things that have been identified, but I think it is going to take a holistic view or holistic approach to solving these issues,” Barrett said. “Law enforcement is a piece to the puzzle, but I think we really have to look at everything from a team approach in regards to our court system, in regards to our probation and parole, in regards to our health care system, in regards to really providing the best assistance to people who are out there in our community. The statistics show that there are glaring disparities, but it is going to take a team approach and a lot of collaborative work in order to attack the issues that we are seeing as a whole and from a team perspective.”

Barrett believes in providing the best possible service to his constituents and that should be the guiding value when making decisions about Dane County law enforcement. He believes a crucial role for his department is preserving the peace and everything takes its lead from that role.

“I believe as a leader and a police officer both working in the Dane County Jail but also in our communities, being a peace officer is exactly what that is, maintaining the peace,” Barrett emphasized. “A lot of responsibilities have been placed on our peace officers that we are not properly trained for. And our ultimate goal as a Dane County Sheriff’s Department is to provide the best service to our people at all times. At this point, there are professionals who are out there who could definitely provide better service to our community members. And if they are out there, I support that 100 percent because it is about providing the best service to the people of Dane County.”

In terms of building a new jail, Barrett wants to do more research on what is best for the people of Dane County, both those outside the jail and those within.

“I want to make sure that I reach out and engage with all of the community leaders and Dane County Supervisors to understand and see exactly what their perspectives are on the jail consolidation project so that I have a better understanding of exactly what the community is expecting and looking for with this new facility” Barrett said. “I’ve worked in the City-County Building and I know what it is like in those facilities. Again we just want to look at it and see if we are treating our incarcerated neighbors humanely and to the best of our abilities. And when I say as the Dane County sheriff that I want to treat all of the people of Dane County with integrity and respect that includes our neighbors who are incarcerated in the Dane County Jail.”

The success that Kalvin Barrett has experienced as an adult has been rooted in teamwork. He plans to bring that same sensibility to his responsibilities as Dane County Sheriff to ensure that the peace is preserved for the citizens of Dane County.