West police chief embraces retirement, leaves legacy of community policing

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 12:34 AM CDT
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WEST, Texas (KWTX) - Darryl Barton, the former Chief of Police for the City of West, has been retired for a little over a week, but he’s already leaning in to being off-duty.

“‘Sorry Mayor, I’m not going to be at work,’” Barton chuckled. “Sipping my tea...and growing my beard...and wearing a Hawaiian shirt--that’s just retired life, right?”

In a surprise move, Barton submitted his request to retire from the city, which the council approved in a specially-called meeting last Saturday, May 7.

“My phone has been ringing off the wall: some congratulating me, some concerned as to what the reason, so it did come fast to a lot of people, but really not to me, I’ve been thinking about it since the beginning of the year,” Barton told KWTX. “I’ve already heard some things that are humorous to me because there’s no grain of truth to it whatsoever, and when I hear the different things in the rumor mill, it’s not worth me repeating because then I’m just adding fire to that.”

On his way out, Barton wants to shut that rumor mill down, saying his retirement is due to health issues and stress, not scandal.

“Between diabetes, high blood pressure, I’ve got neuropathy, I had a broken left foot that never really healed properly which causes me some mobility issues...I was eligible for retirement with the city, and so I looked into that and some other things and I thought ‘this is the time to do it,’” said Barton. “Just the stress of being a regular police officer, much less being the police chief where you can try as you may you are not going to please everybody, if you please this group over here you’re upsetting this group over there, and vise versa, so you just do the best you can.”

But it wasn’t a stress that was easy to give up.

Barton, 58, grew up in West; he was raised in his grandparents restaurant, The Friendship Café, and still deals with the ‘residual effects.’

““I know the old-timers, the oldest and the youngest in the community, they saw me grow up, I’ll walk in (somewhere) as the police chief and they’ll say, ‘I remember when you were running around in diapers,’ that’s what you get when you’re police chief in your hometown,” said Barton. “It literally is family, the good part of it and the bad part of it, and I’m damn proud of my family. we went through a lot together even before the West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, the Red Cross set up shelters we didn’t even need, 300 homes people had to move out of, that same night they had homes to go to, they didn’t have to go to the shelter, that’s what West is all about is those ties, they never go away, when you’re down-and-out and when you’re up on a cloud, you’re always going to have someone reach out for you, that’s just what West has always done and always will do.”

Barton, 58, started his law enforcement career in West in 1985.

“What sticks out is how much change there’s been in law enforcement, the nature of the job has changed, a lot of it for the better. some of it is just evolution,” said Barton. “When I first got into law enforcement, it was a respected field, but now, they don’t get the respect they deserve.”

While West is somewhat in a pro-policing ‘bubble’ Barton says, being responsible for officers in today’s world is a different ballgame because, as the city knows well, tragedy can strike at any time.

“Even before the ‘bash the blue movement’, just as a regular officer going in saying ‘am I going to make it to the end of the shift?’...and then when you become a chief, you’ve got to worry about all your guys, you can be off for the weekend but they’re always in the back of your mind,” said Barton.

Being a police officer under today’s microscope is an impossible challenge, Barton says.

“Nobody wants to be a police officer this day an age, and why would they? They’re bashed on a daily basis, even if you do the best job you possibly can, you’re going to be criticized for it, you can help somebody and you’re going to be coitized for it, you always have to worry anytime you do any action at all, you know it’s right in your heart but somebody is going to reflect it as if it’s not,” said Barton. “Nothing wrong with local media, we have great local media, but national media sometimes focuses on the negative, and that’s sad because there’s a lot of good, positive things happening in law enforcement, very positive things.”

Part of Barton’s legacy, he hopes, was spreading ‘positive things’ through community policing.

“As Chief, I feel like I made an impact on community policing, that’s the one thing I take the most pride in, if you don’t have good relations with the community, anything you do can be skewed, but when people know you and your officers and know who you are as a person and something happens, a critical incident, people know you better than that, they know the officers better than that, and they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt quicker than if you’re not transparent,” said Barton. “I feel like I did the best I could with community policing, we had huge turnouts with our National Nights Out, and I hope they follow what I began as far as community policing, we had a great social media presence, I think tried to make good media contacts in Waco, KWTX being a prime example of that, I feel I implemented a community policing program that was second to none.”

Barton says there’s no ‘bad blood’ between him and the city or the 13 member department he lead for six-and-a-half years.

“I think being a hometown police chief: that helped me to a certain extent, and it hampered me to a certain extent,” said Barton. “There’s no hard feelings between me and the current council and the current staff, West has got a bright future.”

Other than a nine year stint at Hewitt PD, Barton has spent the majority of his 37 years in law enforcement working for West PD.

“I couldn’t be more proud of that,” said Barton. “l love my community, I’m always going to love West, it’s my hometown, I grew up here, and it’s an important town to me, it’s mostly family, and I’m a hometown boy, anybody that can say they served in their hometown with pride, they’re saying something, and I feel honored to have been able to hold that title in a town I hold dear to my heart.”

So what’s next for Barton?

“You may see me driving Uber around town,” he joked. “I’ll get bored eventually and I’ll probably get out there and do something that’s not quite as stressful, we’ll see what the future brings.”

He says leaders at other local law enforcement agencies have already been in touch with him about possible work, so he isn’t ruling out another future career in law enforcement, it just has to be the right fit, he says.

“It’s gong to have to be a stress-free position, the one thing I’m not going to do, I’m not going to come in as a grunt, let the young guys and girls do that,” said Barton. “I’m not down for the count, but in a job such as being a small-town police chief, there’s a lot of different stressors, I was ready to let someone else have that stress.”

The West City Council has appointed Sgt. Ashley Boyd as Interim Chief until they can find a permanent replacement.

Barton said recruitment has always been an issue.

“It’s the council’s job to be fiscally responsible, it was my job to provide the best department I could, and sometimes those things don’t always cohabitate,” said Barton. “And with other small cities around you, you’re all fighting for the same officers, and then retention--just because you hired them on, doesn’t mean the agency down the street isn’t going to catch their eye, $2, $3 more an hour and there they go, so ya there’s that stress, police departments everywhere are having a hard time recruiting people.”

One officer’s departure, Lt. Richard Milligan, coincided with Barton’s retirement, and it raised some eyebrows.

“The bottom line is: this is a decision I’ve made and it’s been coming, he did a great job as my administrative lieutenant, he’s sharp, I think he’s going to pursue another opportunity in law enforcement locally. there may be ties to me leaving for him but I can’t answer for him, he did a great job for me, I’m not going to say anything disparaging about him or the current police department,” said Barton.

Barton says he’s currently helping with the transition.

“I’ve already been to the office since my retirement to help, and I plan on being part of the transition team when they decide who to put on,” said Barton. “I’ll be there to assist in anyway that I can.”

He says he’ll also be there when the new police department, which he championed for, gets built.

“I had some say in the planning of it, that building has been in the planning stages for three or four years...my patience was wearing...I’m glad they’re going to get a new building and it’s going to be a beautiful building,” said Barton. “You’ll see me there on opening day, I’ll be there.”

The City of West has agreed to hold Barton’s peace officer’s license with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) so he can officially be a ‘retired chief.’

“I don’t have to be employed with the city to maintain my license through the state,” said Barton. “I’m a Master Peace Officer, I will be considered a ‘retired police chief,’ I hold that with honor, there’s only a handful of retired police chiefs in the state.”

While he’ll still have a license, since he’s now retired, he will have to give up his position as secretary of the Central Texas Area Chief’s of Police and Sheriff’s Association.

“I can still be a member, I just can’t hold a leadership position,” he said.

On Saturday night, during a town hall meeting, Congressman Pete Sessions presented Barton with a flag which flew over the U.S. Capitol to honor him for his years of service.

“I’m part of West and I’m going to stay part of West,” said Barton. “I’m still a hometown boy, and i guess I’ll die a hometown boy.”

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