Hail to the Chief: Friends, colleagues say goodbye and good luck to Barnett Jones
Kyle Feldscher | AnnArbor.com
And, outgoing Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones almost managed to control his emotions before taking off his badge one last time and heading into retirement.
Civilians and police officers alike traveled from around the state to wish Jones well at his retirement celebration in the Ann Arbor City Council chambers Friday morning. Listening to testimonies from friends and colleagues spanning his 38-year career in law enforcement, Jones laughed at times but refused to bow to the emotion that many in the room were feeling.
Seto called all the active police officers in the room to stand at attention and salute the 53rd chief in the history of the Ann Arbor Police Department. After the moment passed, Jones rubbed tears out of his eyes — a man overcome by the tradition of a department he loved.
“Every decision he has made was based on what was best for the people of this organization,” Seto said.
About 125 people gathered inside the council chambers to say farewell to Jones. It was a showing that many of the assembled speakers said is a testament to the personal relationships Jones cultivated during his decades of service as a police officer in several southeastern Michigan departments.
Jones’ first day as Ann Arbor’s police chief came on June 1, 2006, and his last day was Friday. Prior to that he had served as police chief in Sterling Heights and had a long career with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Inkster Police Department and Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.
Among the speakers was former City Administrator Roger Fraser, the man who hired Jones back in 2006. Fraser said Jones didn’t need to be recruited — in fact, he was the one who was all too ready to come to Ann Arbor, the place where he was born.
Fraser said Jones’ remarkable kindness to all he encountered was something he’ll never forget.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the one arrested or you’re the one who has to chase them down,” Fraser said, “he cares for everyone from his soul.”
One of the more entertaining tributes came from Washtenaw County Public Defender Lloyd Powell, who introduced a bit of drama into his speech.
Powell said he believed Jones had set the standard for leadership of the police department in the way that Shakespeare set the standard for writing and Michelangelo set the standard for painting.
“This was a leader who set the standard for other people to live up to,” Powell said, finishing off his speech with a chant of, “Viva Barnett Jones! Viva Barnett Jones!”
Jones made $126,500 per year as chief of police and is eligible for a pension under city policies that allow firefighters and police officers to collect at age 55 with five or more years of experience. Estimates show he could make about $20,000 per year with that pension.
Jones has been forced to make deep cuts to the police department during the last few years as the city struggled with the economic realities brought by the recession. Although the budget outlook looks better for the police department this year, the fire department — which Jones also oversaw as public safety administrator — is expected to cut more jobs this year.
Jones said the men and women of the Ann Arbor Police Department had endured one of the toughest experiences in law enforcement — having their colleagues lose their jobs and, in the case of Vada Murray and former Ann Arbor Deputy Chief Greg O’Dell, their lives. Jones said the people inside the department inspired him.
“I wanted to maintain the type of police department I inherited,” Jones said. “Along the road, I believe I accomplished that goal.”
He praised Seto, encouraging the city officials in attendance to remove the interim tag from Seto's title as soon as possible. Seto takes over as the interim police chief on Saturday.
“There should be no transition,” he said.
However, the loss of Jones to retirement clearly affected the city’s leaders.
Mayor John Hieftje was soft spoken in his remarks, his voice sometimes cracking when speaking of the deep respect he had for Jones both professionally and personally.
Hieftje said Ann Arbor wasn’t just losing one of its best cops, it was losing one of the most-well regarded people in law enforcement throughout the state.
“Chief has a reputation that goes far beyond this area,” Hieftje said with emotion filling his voice. “He is one of the most respected police officers in the state of Michigan.”