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12 Rounds with Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett


In our new weekly feature 12 Rounds, leaders will answer 12 questions — some light, some heavy — from our Publisher and CEO Henry Sanders to help the community understand them, what they do, and why. Today: Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett.

Prior to being appointed Dane County Sheriff and taking office May 8, Barrett served as Dane County Deputy Sheriff from 2009 to 2011, an officer with the Sun Prairie Police Department from 2011 to 2016 and a law enforcement officer at Wisconsin State Fair Park. He taught law enforcement and criminal justice at Madison College where he was the faculty director of the criminal justice studies program. He was also a workplace violence and active threat response consultant. He has recently announced a campaign for election to a full term next year.

What advice would you give someone who is a person of color, not from Wisconsin, who is thinking about moving to Madison? They should enjoy the summer, spring, and fall times and prepare for the winter weather.  Find a solid group of friends who have the same interests and explore Dane County.  Invest in our future generations by volunteering to work with our youth; they need us.  There are numerous community groups throughout the county that do great work in our communities, and they need our help.  Finally, be prepared for construction delays to and from work commutes.  

Next, I would take an opportunity to learn about where they are coming from, where they are now (in their lives) and where they want life to take them in the future.  Then, encourage them to visit teamdane.com and apply to be a Dane County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and serve the Dane County community along my side (plug).  It is imperative that our sheriff’s office reflects the diverse communities we serve.  Their personal and professional experiences as a person of color are needed throughout our sheriff’s office ranks.  We need diverse perspectives when considering policy, procedures, work rules, promotions, hiring, programs, discipline, and terminations.  

Name three songs that accurately reflect how you’re feeling.  

  1. Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
  2. Good Man by India Arie
  3. His Eye is on the Sparrow by any gospel choir

If you could go back in time to any point of life to tell yourself something, what age would you go back to and what would you tell yourself? I would go back to 1995 when I was 12 years old.  My father passed away suddenly, and he was everything to me.  I was lost and in the process of learning how to replace his love, leadership, and wisdom.  I wanted to be the necessary leader for my mother and two-year-old sister.  I would tell myself that I would be ok, and being successful does not mean I have to be perfect.  I have to learn from my mistakes, think before I speak, and don’t let my ability to reason be the first casualty of my emotions.  

What did you learn about yourself in 2020? The year 2020 reaffirmed that my family is an essential aspect of my life. They are the foundation and inspiration for all of the positive work I do in our communities.  In 2020, the entire world shut down, and our family found ourselves learning more about each other than ever before.  

I also learned that our communities and professions need us as leaders more now than ever before.  I learned that my life and professional experiences were vital to finding success as a criminal justice professional.   The Lord has a plan for me, and though I may not always understand his vision and plan, I feel him leading me on a destiny for greatness.    

At this point of your life do you feel you have found your purpose? If so, how did you figure out your purpose? I feel I have found my purpose at this point in my life, but I have not yet fulfilled my purpose.  I feel every moment in my life was in preparation for this opportunity to be appointed the 53rd Sheriff of Dane County.  Though I have obtained a goal I set many years ago, I know that there is a ton of work to do, and my appointment is the start of my journey.  I am well aware of the responsibility placed on my shoulders. Still, I graciously accept the responsibility, as I have the burning internal passion for serving my community and profession with dignity, respect, and trustworthiness.  

There is a lot of division around the issues of race in politics. What can we do to lesson those divisions? I feel we need to use the tragic incidents occurring around our state and country to fuel our efforts and be the catalyst for the change we are all wanting to see.  Our voices have power, and our experiences influence how we view local, state, and federal politics.  With the increasing number of black and brown elected officials in our state, we have access to their expertise and support.  We can use their guidance to strengthen our own networks of success.  

Why is it important for people of color to be in law enforcement? People of color need to be in law enforcement because we have different personal and professional experiences.  These experiences allow us to bring a unique perspective to a profession that has statistically proven to lack diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identification.  

OutKast or the Roots? This is the most challenging question I have had as sheriff!  Oukast by a hair. 

What do you do to stay healthy mentally, physically and spiritually? My mental, physical, and spiritual well-being play a significant role in creating a healthy balance in my personal and professional life.  To maintain my mental health, I have several practices that help me.  First, I set aside time every day for a one-on-one conversation with my wife Kate and my mother Teresa.  They are my best friends, my most trusted confidants, and my top campaign advisors.  Second, I start every day with an entry in my gratitude journal.  The journal entry allows me to maintain my focus on all the great blessings I have in my life.  Third, I take walks at the end of every day to reflect on my performance as a sheriff, husband, father, and community leader.  

To maintain my physical health, I try to exercise at least three times a week.  My exercise includes racquetball, LES MILLS Sprint class, and shooting hoops with my daughters.  

I maintain my spiritual health by keeping a close relationship with my Lord and Savior.  I read a 4-minute daily spiritual devotional given to me by my mother.  As a family, we attend Christ The Solid Rock Baptist Church and receive the Word from my friend and mentor, the Reverend Everett Mitchell. 

Name your favorite things you miss about the 1990’s? I miss the R&B music that took over the 1990’s when we were growing up.  I do not mean to disrespect our current R&B musicians. Still, Miguel and Trey Songz have nothing on Jodeci, Mint Condition, or Mary J. Blige. 

How can you, as sheriff, help to rebuild trust with communities of color. I will rebuild trust with our communities of color by being accessible, honest, and present.  I cannot control what happens at other peace officer agencies across the United States, BUT I do control what happens at the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.  We (Dane County Sheriff’s Office) will collectively continue to rebuild fractured relationships and strengthen already established relationships, one conversation, one crisis, one handshake, and one hug at a time. 

If you could name one famous quote that inspires you the most, which quote would that be? “I had people who encouraged me, not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders, and they’d push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself.  And if I didn’t listen, they said it again.  And if I didn’t listen, they said it a third time.  And they would  give me second chances and third chances.  They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.” – Barack Obama