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New sheriff intends to keep jail population low, focus on rebuilding relationships

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    MADISON, WI (365 Media Foundation, Inc) — Dane County’s next sheriff says he hopes to reduce the jail population and restore fractured relationships in the community.

In an interview for the Madison365 daily news podcast It’s Only 10 Minutes, Kalvin Barrett said he wants the department to stay close with the community without over-policing.

Barrett, 39, was appointed Friday by Governor Tony Evers to replace Sheriff Dave Mahoney, who will retire May 8. Barrett will be the county’s first Black sheriff.

“I bring a unique lens,” Barrett said. “I believe my experiences both professionally and personally will allow me to view things from a lens that has never been seen before.”

Barrett grew up in San Diego and came to Madison in 2000 to play football for the University of Wisconsin. After graduating with a degree in sociology, he and his wife moved to Texas, but returned in 2009 to become a Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy. In 2011 he became the first Black police officer in Sun Prairie. Currently, he is an instructor in the Madison College criminology program and police academy, and is the program’s diversity and inclusion coordinator.

He said he’s quite aware of the unique challenges of the current moment following heightened protests of police brutality, especially among Black people and allies.

“It is definitely a tough time, especially for an officer of color, but I think it’s a great opportunity for me to represent two communities to which I belong, and that is as a Black man in American society, but also as a Black police officer,” he said. “And I think as a police officer, I’m in a position really to bring understanding and find common ground between our underrepresented communities and our law enforcement community.”

He said some of that common ground will be found through community involvement to build trust.

“I believe that proximity breeds care and distance breeds fear, and the more that we’re in our communities and we’re hearing and listening to our communities, it will allow us to understand our communities and then put forth really proactive approaches to crime reduction that doesn’t involve incarceration,” he said. 

Proximity doesn’t necessarily mean policing, he said.

“I’m talking about being out on foot patrols, which we see with our local law enforcement agencies, talking about going to community meetings, being involved in community-based programs, getting out and creating programs through our community deputies to really build those relationships with our youth, but also with the communities that we serve,” he said. “So the proximity I was specifically talking to is in regards to looking at each other and being able to communicate on a one-on-one level, not necessarily policing them.”

Barrett said fair treatment of inmates in the jail will be one of his priorities, alongside reducing the jail population.

“My ultimate goal as the Dane County Sheriff is always going to be to reduce our jail population and keep it as low as possible,” he said. “Incarceration is designed for those who pose the most significant threat to our communities. And for those who do not pose a significant threat, there’s no real reason for them to be incarcerated in the jail.”

Barrett takes office on May 8 and his term will run until April 2023. He has not announced whether he intends to seek election to a full term.

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