Forty-one years is a long time to serve our community. That’s how long Chief Barry Barnard has worn the uniform as an officer of the Prince William County Police Department. He has watched the police department grow, change and adapt as our population increased and the world became more complex.
Barnard evolved from recruit to chief of police here. He retired this week. I had the opportunity to chat with the chief as he prepares for the next chapter of his life.
Being a policeman or woman isn’t as simple as it used to be. I walked away understanding three things about the chief. Barnard cares deeply about the community he serves and the team he leads to protect it, and he understands the need to apply new tools, technology, partnerships and ideas to protect the public and his team.
A constant theme of our conversation was trust. Barnard considers it the cornerstone of the relationship between police and the community. Anyone who pays attention knows that Barnard understands he was the voice of the county police department. He spent a lot of time visiting multiple venues talking to crowds large and small, to understand the issues our community is concerned about and to answer questions.
I was particularly impressed with Barnard’s holistic approach to keeping people safe. Much of our conversation was about the many moving parts involved in protecting our community and how modern police departments understand the variety of resources and expertise needed to work together to solve today’s problems.
Simply put, police work is about problem solving. The best preface to the rest of the conversation was the chief’s comment: “You can’t arrest your way out of problems.”
Barnard has actively developed partnerships with local nonprofits, deployed modern analytic technology, and trained police to understand the full range of community tools at their disposal to resolve issues. He considers school counselors and community mental health services critical to helping people solve problems before they evolve into incidents that require police involvement.
Today’s police face a world of relative calm interrupted by occasional incidents and the constant possibility of violence and dangerous situations. The families who wait for officers to come home share the stresses of a law enforcement career. It’s a tough job. Protecting mental health and preventing suicide are keys to protecting his people.
Barnard pointed out the importance of two county programs designed to protect officers. The police department’s Wellness & Resiliency Center was established to offer confidential counseling, crisis support and emergency management to all public safety employees and their immediate families. The department also implemented a public Safety Resilience Program to provide confidential mental health care tailored to law enforcement and its unique culture. The program provides staff and immediate family with unlimited therapy sessions. Barnard stressed the confidential nature of all services and is pleased when his staff uses them.
I asked Barnard what advice he might have for the next chief. He offered the following: Do everything you can to support your staff and hold people accountable, hire the best people, train them well, and maintain the department’s values. That sounds like good advice.
In a more somber moment, Barnard reflected on the things he has seen. He remembers the rough days, “shots fired,” the faces of every officer who has made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Barnard will carry the Hall of Heroes with him into retirement.
Enjoy your next chapter, chief. You earned it. On behalf of a grateful community, thank you for your service.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.