MADISON — Boone County Chief Deputy Chad Barker (D) said he believes his 20 years of law enforcement experience, coupled with over a decade in a leadership position, make him the right choice for Sheriff for voters in the May primary. He faces Madison Chief of Police Chet Burgess (D) in what will decide the next term of what many consider the most powerful seat in a rural area.
As there are no Republicans running for the office, the new sheriff will be elected in the May primary and will take office in January.
Barker is polite, he’s a more-than-competent public speaker, and he is equipped with a firm handshake that is a byproduct of his 6-foot-4 frame.
“I’m a family man,” he said. “When I’m not working, that is where my time is spent. That is where my heart is.”
Barker said he wants to continue pursuing the initiatives he has supported as chief deputy while developing them even further if he were to be elected.
“I think the most recent accomplishment (2019) was becoming a dementia-friendly sheriff’s office, which makes us the first in the state of West Virginia,” he said. “That training was provided by West Virginia Cares and West Virginia University. We trained every person we have, so everyone we have — not just the deputies, but our entire office — has training to properly deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Barker spoke candidly about one of the complaints the office has received, which deals with community presence and road patrol. Over the last nine months, Boone County has cut nearly 30 percent of its budget, which has affected each elected official’s office in myriad ways.
“There are a lot of hidden jobs and responsibilities that people don’t see at a glance,” he said. “They think that your sole job as a deputy is to answer 911 calls and drive around. You are behind the eight ball because now you are dealing with less and you are constantly trying to find creative and efficient ways to do more with less.”
Process serving, mental hygiene processing, domestic violence petitions and court responsibilities are part of the gig.
The office answered over 7,000 calls in 2019.
Since May 2019, the office is down three deputies and a civilian position. Those deputies weren’t cut via budget cuts, but rather through attrition. Two of the officers left for another agency and one retired, and they were not replaced. The civilian position will be filled.
With more cuts looming according to county officials, Barker responded to the question regarding his force and whether the current staff of 18 deputies would be reduced, while further cutting a current office budget of approximately $1.8 million.
“That is a tough question,” he said. “We’ve been hammered like everyone else. We cover the county 24 hours per day, seven days per week and we have guys answering 911 calls. Right now, I feel we are walking a fine line in terms of doing that safely. We already live in a rural area of over 500 square miles. If it drops below that number, I fear being able to maintain that coverage because we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel on night shift and day shift. I don’t mean that in terms of quality of employees, but in sheer manpower.”
Barker noted that a recent increase in West Virginia State Police presence in the county has been a tremendous asset to the community.
“Any calls they take really helps us and we appreciate it,” he said. “We cut our budgets by 28 percent, but crime wasn’t cut by 28 percent.”
Barker said he is open to suggestions from other agencies across the country who have faced cuts that have reduced manpower. He would like to introduce a “saturation team” that would focus on hotspots in the county that have been reported as troubled areas.
“Whenever we travel to conferences, I talk to people and I worked on the drug task force for five years so I’ve made contacts that I may not have otherwise in the southern part of the state, and you learn how they answer calls. I don’t know how they do it in Lincoln or Gilmer County where they have one or two deputies. I don’t know how that could work here. The call volume is too high and we have too much going on.”
Boone County still has a deputy serving on the Route 119 Task Force.
“So now, if we get cut again, will we be able to maintain that and that single position is the only drug investigator we have left,” he said. “I feel to be effective, we must have street-level enforcement. I stand behind the good work of the task force, 100%.”
Barker said that, while he has learned a lot working under his father-in-law and current Sheriff Randall White, he looks to put his own stamp on the seat if elected.
“No two people are the same,” he said. “I have some ideas and I feel that our drug issues are at the source of a lot of our crime. I’d like to see more early education and intervention in our school system. I would like to see us participate in that more and support parents in early education. People need to be able to worry about their children and be able to get help without the stigma of addiction. I enjoy talking to people and doing presentations, whether it be a hospital, school or community group. I definitely enjoy that more than he (White) does.”
Barker, 41, wants the office to be accessible to the media and citizens. He said he is in support of Auditor JB McCuskey’s West Virginia Checkbook program, which allows citizens to track government spending. Boone County can be tracked via a link on the Boone County Clerk’s website. There is no charge to use the service.
Barker added, “Transparency is how you gain the public’s trust and I feel we have a decent relationship now with the public and that is a sheriff’s duty to maintain a relationship and make it better.”
Barker said he’d like to see more resources in Boone County for homelessness and recovery from addiction. He said law enforcement is often left with tough decisions regarding what they find on the street or rural roads of the county. He said he is an advocate for 24/7 treatment but said that offenders must be punished for their crimes.
“I’d say that 85 percent of what we do is related to drug crimes,” he said. “It can be related to thefts, car wrecks, confrontations and beyond. I want to introduce something that would be like a ‘re-entry packet’ and when you are released from jail, whether it is a drug crime or not, it provides you with resources that can help you reestablish yourself. For instance, if you are homeless and arrested for a petty crime, when you are released you are still homeless and still addicted. I feel if you give people resources and options while they are sober, they may take advantage of it.”
Barker is married to Brianne White Barker, who is the 2019 Boone County Schools Teacher of the Year. They have one teenaged daughter in Cambri, 13, whom Chad Barker has coached in softball leagues.
“Balancing family and work is always a challenge when you are in law enforcement,” he said. “This isn’t an 8-to-4 (o’clock) position. We need to keep providing opportunities for kids who don’t have the opportunities that my daughter has.”
Barker added with emotion, “She is a great kid, makes straight As, loves sports and has a huge heart like her dad. I can’t put into words how proud I am of her and the person she is.”
The Scott High graduate, who also has an associates degree, said his office has received training to deal with live shooter situations.
“Columbine in 1999 changed the way we do things across the country,” he said. “Our school board is in the process of implementing a ‘run-hide-fight’ policy and it is one of the best things we can do to keep our kids safe.
“We want to maintain our relationship with the board of education and the school resource officer that we have,” he continued. “Unfortunately we just have one. Through grants or partnerships, I’d like to build on that. I will implement a program that sees each of our road guys spend an hour per week in a school. If every officer does this including night shift, where they can go to ballgames and other events, it is a win-win for everyone.”
Barker added that two of the office’s cruisers have over 200,000 miles on them and that replacing the vehicles in the fleet is something the next sheriff must address in his term; it is likely the office’s biggest financial commitment in terms of equipment needs.
The Chief Deputy said that Home Confinement has suffered through the cuts as the responsibility has fallen to a deputy with road responsibilities.
“We lost all of our home-confinement people, so we have a deputy working the road who is also responsible for doing double duty and maintain a presence in home confinement, and we must hold these people’s feet to the fire,” he added.
Barker confirmed that, if elected, he would name Captain Mark Abbott from the City of Charleston’s force as his Chief Deputy. Abbott is a 1988 graduate of Sherman High School and began his career with the City of Madison. Abbott has received various awards through his work and Barker said that the ranks in his office have shown support for Abbott, who last year had considered a campaign for Boone County Sheriff himself.
“I had a meeting with Mark and you want someone like-minded,” he said. “I know what my strengths and weaknesses are and I think we’d complement each other. He’s been an officer for nearly 30 years and you can’t knock his resume. He knows how to deal with people the right way.”
Abbott also serves as Patrol Division Bureau Chief and SWAT commander.
“I think Mark will be well-received, but if I said that I didn’t lose sleep over the decision I’d be lying to you,” Barker said. “You develop a close relationship with the folks you work with and some of them were considered and it isn’t a knock on any of them. He can forge relationships there. He is a person who is highly motivated and self-driven.”
Barker said he’d like to process gun permits in a timely manner (state code states within 45 days) and that he will be looking at that process and looking for ways to issue them faster. He said he believes that the sheriff’s office should be open to creative ways to collect taxes and that he plans to explore those, including the use of a private company to aid in collecting.
“We have to be open to other options and while we are doing everything according to law, I want to do a little bit more,” he said.
It is worthy of noting that in July 2019, through a routine audit by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, Sheriff White was prevented from collecting the maximum $15,000 commission he would have received if all criteria from the state code were met.
“Some counties are doing a mobile home program and when someone owns a mobile home and it sits on another person’s property, it falls through the cracks,” Barker added. “We need to be collecting that and it is an avenue we need to look at.”
While taxes can be paid online now, Barker looks to find a way to be able to collect taxes on a specific day each week at their satellite office in Racine once again for those who prefer to pay in that manner. It was through budget cuts that the service was dissolved.
Barker said that one of the biggest needs for his office is an IT person designated for law enforcement needs. He believes that the daily operations of the office justifies the position and would help keep more officers on the road and less behind a desk wrestling with technology.
“This isn’t a knock on anyone,” he said. “We used to be able to do a forensic examination of a cell phone here but right now, we have to lean on the South Charleston Police Department and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office.”
Barker said he would like to see a Virtual Private Network for officers (VPN) that would allow them to transmit department information privately and safely.
In summary, the Boone County Sheriff candidate said he appreciates the support he’s received early on in his campaign.
“I’ve gotten to know so many good people in this county,” he said. “I’m very proud to call it my home.”