By Jonathan Gramling

It was truly a momentous occasion on May 10, 2021 when Kalvin Barrett was sworn in as Dane County’s 53rd sheriff. And after 181 years of existence, Dane County had its first African American sheriff.

Barrett was sworn in at the Jury Assembly Room in the Dane County Courthouse surrounded by 50-75 friends, community members, law enforcement personnel and family. Judge Everett Mitchell, who swore Barrett in, made note of the occasion.

“It is a historic moment to have a Black man sworn in as sheriff in 2021,” Mitchell emphasized. “We are joined here by the leaders of law enforcement here from Milwaukee and Madison and to have Jim Palmer here representing the leadership of the state. This is an important and historic moment for us here and I am so glad, so honored, so blessed to share this moment with Kalvin. He is beyond belief the representation of what I believe law enforcement for the future will look like. He has a character that allows for me to be trustworthy in the fact of his leadership and what he will bring to our community. And not just our community, but our entire state.”

Equally historic was the gathering together of the Milwaukee County Sheriff, Earnell Lucas, Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman, Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes and Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett. The top law enforcement officers in Wisconsin’s two largest counties and cities are African American men.

Barrett was very humble in his comments proceeding the swearing in, thanking family, the Dane County deputies and Dane County’s residents. After thanking Governor Tony Evers for his appointment, Barrett said:

“I thank my wife and my daughters,” Barrett said. “You are my strength, you are my love, you are everything I represent in this uniform. You are everything I represent as I move into this leadership position to create a society and a world that will be acceptable of you, our children and our children’s children. I would not be here without you and I love you with my entire life. I want to thank my mom, Theresa. Your hard work and dedication took us from Brooklyn, New York to Sheepshead Bay, New York to Claremont Mesa, California to Spring Valley, California to a deluxe apartment in the sky. Your love and support is everything as well. Dad would be proud. I know he is standing next to me. I know you can see him because I can feel him.”

Barrett emphasized that it is going to take everyone involved to make a difference in Dane County law enforcement.

“Every moment of every day from this point forward, I get to wake up and put on a badge and inspire, motivate and lead a sheriff’s office filled with deputies who will inspire, motivate and lead this generation and the next generation of peace officer in our community,” Barrett emphasized. “This is the most important thing that we do right now and we will do this together. As you look around this room, you see a collective, a collaboration of police officers, deputies, community members, community activists, representatives, police chiefs and sheriffs. This is what it is going to take for us to move forward: being in the same room, having difficult conversations and working together as one to move forward.”

Barrett outlined three objectives that he will focus on in the coming year.

“Community engagement by rebuilding fractured relationships and continuing to strengthen already established relationships in public safety is first,” Barrett said. “Next, I want to ensure that we maintain a low jail population through evidence based programs and jail diversion programs. Last, I want to hire a force of deputies who reflect the communities we serve, not just through race, but also through gender, sexual orientation, sexual identification and culture.”

Barrett ended his short speech by reflecting on the values that he will depend upon to be Dane County’s sheriff.

“I hope this quote expands upon my leadership and vision for the Dane County Sheriff’s Department,” Barrett said. “’Trust only flows from trustworthiness, which is a combination of my character, who I am and my competence, my ability to do my job. They are the twin pillars that support my character, causing others to trust my intention, my direction and my leadership.’ Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to serving you as the Dane County Sheriff for many years to come.”

History is being made.