CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Cap City News has sent out a questionnaire to those running for local seats in the general election as an independent in November. The following are the answers from Jeff Barnes, who is seeking election for Laramie County Sherriff. Answers are edited only for clarity and style.
Who are you? (Name, where you’re from, employment, hobbies, etc.)
My name is Jeff Barnes, and I’m originally from St. Louis, Missouri. My wife and I relocated here five years ago, after visiting friends in Cheyenne over the course of 20 years. I am currently retired from the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office. I have 27 years of law enforcement experience. Twenty-one years were with the St. Louis Police Department, working on patrol, in the Canine Unit, Police Academy Instructor, On-scene Commander of the Hostage Response Unit, and Commander of Operational Planning and Emergency Management for the City of St. Louis. I retired as a Lieutenant. I also spent over two years as a police contractor embedded with the 82nd and 101st Airborne in Iraq and Afghanistan as a police advisor on Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence operations. I spent 4+ years with the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department on patrol as a Resident Deputy in the east and west portions of the county.
I am also an Air Force Veteran with four years’ active duty, and 28 years with the Missouri Air National Guard serving as Fire Chief. I served at Ali Air Force Base in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, acting as Fire Chief for the base. I was promoted to Chief Master Sgt. (E9) in 1998, and retired from the military in 2008.
I have a Master’s Degree in Business and Organizational Security Management from Webster University in St. Louis, and worked as Security Manager for the St. Louis Science Center, a pharmaceutical firm, and finally as General Manager of Hudson Security.
I have been married to my wife for 34 years, and we have two children and two grandchildren. My favorite pastime is spending time with my family and grandchildren, but I also enjoy fishing, camping, shooting sports and reading.
Why have you decided to run for office and what do you hope to accomplish should you be elected?
First, I’m running because I care about the citizens of Laramie County, and I want to prevent crime from changing the way of life we all enjoy here. The dangerous areas I patrolled in St. Louis didn’t start out that way. They became that way over years of neglect that resulted in low police manpower, an ever-increasing drug problem, and an overall failure to recognize and respond to the warning signs of decline. My experience as a recent patrol deputy in Laramie County, combined with the perspective that my big-city policing experience has provided, has increased my awareness of problem areas within Laramie County and strengthened my desire to preserve what we have.
Second, I want to restore the community’s trust in the Sheriff’s Office and increase respect for law enforcement through a more positive police presence. The department is low on manpower, is suffering from low morale, and needs increased mentorship and improved training. When these issues are addressed, deputy and staff confidence will rise, service will improve, and citizen support will grow.
Finally, I have a vigilant eye on the constant changes and threats to our freedoms and way of life in our country. These are times that require a strong leader who isn’t afraid to take a stand for those he serves. My well-rounded experience and training in law enforcement, in the military, and in security management, along with my confidence to lead in difficult times, make me the most qualified for the job.
As far as what I hope to accomplish, the list is long. I have my plan for the first 100 days, which includes individual meetings with all staff so that we can identify and address the morale issues, reevaluating our distribution of manpower and reorganizing it for improved coverage, analyzing calls for service and statistics to address problem crime areas, beginning a robust hiring process to include taking a look at re-hiring those who have recently left for issues other than performance, conducting a budget audit to make sure we getting the most for every citizen dollar we’ve been given, developing a new mission and vision statement, beginning the process to increase inter-agency collaboration, and forging a working relationship with the community.
While none of these things can be accomplished overnight, I have a clear plan for moving forward that will restore the confidence of the deputies and staff as well as the community. We’ll eat this elephant one bite at a time.
How do you plan on accomplishing your goals?
I favor a “people-centered approach.” I want to work alongside the deputies and staff of the Sheriff’s Office to commit to a shared vision and goals, and will encourage free thinking and innovation as we pursue those goals. I will have an open-door policy and will welcome frequent and candid communication. The rank and file are on the front lines doing the job daily, and many of them have great insight and ideas. When employees have “buy in,” they feel more respected and energized. Including people in the process will go a long way in accomplishing goals.
What experience do you have that qualifies you for the office you are seeking?
When people ask about my experience, I usually deliver my résumé, which covers a broad outline of my career such as dates and assignments. What that overview doesn’t cover, however, is what my day-to-day experiences on the street for 21 years were like, the calls I handled, and the lessons I learned. THAT is the real experience that counts; the kind of experience that prepares a person for anything — that makes them aware of what to look out for and to recognize a problem when they see it.
The majority of my career was spent on some of the toughest streets in the nation. Every bit of the top-notch training I received was utilized and honed in my day-to-day work there. Calls that small-town law enforcement officers see once in a career were a daily occurrence in St. Louis. I’ve handled shootings too numerous to count, and know what it’s like to utilize a canine to search for everything from contraband to guns to dead bodies. I’ve responded to hundreds of domestic calls, robberies, first-degree assaults and violent sexual assaults, and have taken rounds fired into my police car more than once. The majority of suspects I encountered were armed, so I learned that officer safety was not to be taken lightly or blown off. I stood Honor Guard at the funerals of five of my law enforcement colleagues.
As a supervisor, right up to the rank of Lieutenant, I spent the majority of my time on the street with my officers, working alongside them and managing the flow of calls. It was not uncommon to have the dispatchers come over the radio saying, “Any cars available — numerous calls pending” and to move from one high-profile call to another during an entire shift. As a Lieutenant in St. Louis, I managed nearly as many officers in my district as there are in the Sheriff’s Department here as a whole. I mentored them, provided correction, and counseled more than a few who needed a friendly ear.
My experience here on patrol in Laramie County, though different, was just as valuable. It provided me the opportunity to connect with citizens one on one to handle their complaints and listen to them talk. I have knowledge of how the Sheriff’s Department manages the flow of calls and where current operating procedures work and where they fall short. I’m aware of strengths and weaknesses across the board, and know where additional training would be beneficial.
Do you feel you could be a good steward with taxpayer dollars? Why or why not?
I am committed to good stewardship. I recognize that the budget is made up of taxpayers’ money, and extra care and diligence must be given to make each dollar count. When overseeing the hard-earned money of others, it is crucial to be responsible and accountable for every penny. I plan to take every decision, every purchase very seriously. I have extensive experience in budget management from handling the security budget at the St. Louis Science Center, for Hudson Security, and through my participation in strategic budget planning for my unit in the Air National Guard. In each case regardless of the size of the budget, I followed the same process: determine and prioritize needs, seek the best value, weigh the options, and spend prudently. The current LCSO administration points with pride to the fact that they return funds to the County Commissioners at the end of the budget year. I say that turning funds back in at the end of the year when there are important unmet needs on the table is NOT an example of good stewardship; it is just foolish. As I mentioned earlier, among the first things I plan to do is to have a budget audit conducted. This way, I would not be held responsible for any discrepancies or inconsistencies that may be present when I take office, and this will provide a fresh start to good stewardship.
On the issue of transparency, where do you stand on ensuring all public business is conducted openly and in a manner that encourages public attendance?
One of my goals if elected is to restore the public trust in the Sheriff’s Office and to create a more positive presence within the community. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through transparency.
I will conduct periodic Town Hall meetings in various areas of the county to discuss crime issues, listen to citizen concerns, and allow citizens to respectfully provide feedback about their interactions with personnel. Community feedback can be very useful in driving department priorities and will help us provide the professional service the community expects and deserves. Once the community realizes that I value their input and take their concerns seriously, interest and attendance will increase.
I plan to make department information publicly available. The current website is outdated and needs to be redone. When the update takes place, organizational charts, policies and procedures, manpower levels, yearly reports and crime statics (CompStat) will all be available there.
To keep up with ever-changing methods of communication, I will increase our focus on technology and social media to tell our story. We will increase our website presence and use Twitter and Instagram in addition to Facebook. We don’t need to be experts in social media, but as technology evolves, and community members rely on social media as their local and national information platform, the Sheriff’s Office must evolve also. Not only will these platforms inform the public regarding news, updates and information about the Sheriff’s Office, they will also serve as another means to communicate with citizens in emergency situations.
Finally, I plan on fostering a good working relationship with the media and will allow them open access to me personally as needed.
Do you believe the office or board position you seek has been open and honest with the public? If yes, how can the entity remain open and transparent when conducting public business moving forward? If no, what changes would you implement to ensure that all future dealings are open and transparent?
No, I don’t think the Sheriff’s Office has been open with the public regarding issues, information and policies that have a direct impact on their lives. See my answers above (question 6) for the plans I have to change that.
If you were presiding over a meeting and a topic was being discussed that you didn’t fully understand, would you ask for a more detailed explanation during the meeting or would you seek the information after the meeting?
First of all, if I were the person presiding over the meeting as your question states, then I would be the one introducing the topic, and should have a solid understanding of it. I like to be informed and ready before presiding over any meeting. If during discussion, however, something related to the topic was brought up that I didn’t understand, I would ask for clarification on the spot.
On the other hand, if someone asked me a question during the meeting that I couldn’t answer, I would admit that I didn’t know the answer and ask to get back to all attendees with the information they needed in a timely manner.
Should you be elected, or reelected, do you plan on seeking any major policy changes in your chosen office? If yes, what would those changes be? If no, why not?
Policing people with mental illness is one of the biggest challenges facing police today. With budget cuts to mental health facilities and services, more people with mental health issues are left on their own to survive. I’d like to bring together a group of mental health professionals to assist in developing a department policy that employs best practices for interacting with and policing the mentally ill.
The Sheriff’s Office needs an Active Shooter Response Policy that spells out protocol for those incidents that would require the response of the LCSO alone, and those incidents that involve inter-agency cooperation.
One of the first changes I’d make is to bring back the Reserve Deputy program. Since this program has not been in place for several years, a new policy regarding the use of Reserve Deputies would have to be developed.
In addition to these, I would perform an examination of all department policies to make sure we’re up to date with best practices. Creating new and evaluating existing polices not only provides guidance to deputies, but gives the community peace of mind.
Marijuana legalization, or at the very least decriminalization, is on the minds of the public and public officials alike. Where do you stand on marijuana legalization? What would your office’s stance be if marijuana were decriminalized?
Ultimately, the legalization of marijuana is up to our legislature. If I were elected, the Sheriff’s Office would enforce and uphold the law as written.
That being said, after alcohol, marijuana is the substance most often associated with impaired driving, and the most addictive after tobacco and alcohol. As a law enforcement officer that has seen more than my fair share of tragedies accompanying drunk driving, addiction and other crimes under the influence, I’m not in favor of legalizing any substance that further contributes to impairment of any kind. I see no real benefit to the legalization other than to increase funding for the state.
If marijuana was decriminalized, my office’s stance would be, again, to follow the law established by the state. I do agree that a lot of police manpower and jail space is taken up in the enforcement of minor marijuana possession offenses.
Should you be elected, or reelected, where do you stand on the issue of constitutional vs. community policing?
These two things are not mutually exclusive. These two are more entwined than they are at odds with one another.
I will be a strong constitutional sheriff; one who is not afraid to stand with citizens in defense of their rights. My deputies will receive enhanced training on the Constitution as it pertains to their job so that the community knows they can trust deputies to act in ways that are respectful, appropriate and just.
I am thoroughly committed to community policing. It is a productive way to rebuild trust between the public and police, and building trust within the community is one of my goals. When we develop community connections, police are better informed and empowered to solve public safety issues.
I appreciate the opportunity to answer these questions for the citizens! For more information on these issues and others, visit my website — www.jeffbarnesforsheriff.com — or on Facebook — Jeff Barnes for Sheriff.