Veteran lawman offers fresh perspective as interim sheriff

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published October 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 7, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Cleve Barfield was among several applicants for the sheriff’s post in Saline County recently. With 39 years of experience as a law enforcement officer with the Arkansas State Police, Barfield was chosen by Saline County Quorum Court members to serve as the sheriff in an interim capacity after the resignation of the previous officeholder.

Cleve Barfield is all business as he sits behind his new desk. He doesn’t seem quick to smile, and he has the upright bearing of someone who has spent most of his life in a uniform, sworn to protect and serve.

The no-nonsense attitude, combined with a resume of 39 years with the Arkansas State Police, may be why Barfield was picked to be the interim sheriff of Saline County.

Barfield said the members of the Saline County Quorum Court asked some hard questions during his interview.

“I hope they looked at my qualifications and experience,” he said on Wednesday, his second day in office. “I think I bring fairness and an enthusiasm for the work.”

The court members selected the 62-year-old Barfield from four finalists. The official vote taken by the court was unanimous.

Almost from the day he graduated from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro at the age of 22, Barfield was a law enforcement officer.

“I was a phys-ed major in college; I wanted to be a coach,” Barfield said. “But along the way, I found out they wanted coaches to teach, too. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to coach.”

While becoming a member of the state police was a career change for Barfield, it was not a shocking surprise to those around him.

“It’s sort of the family business. I am the third generation of police officers,” he said. “My grandfather, my father and a great-uncle were all Little Rock police officers.”

A Little Rock native, Barfield said he never returned to the capital city after he left for college in Jonesboro when he was 18. His first state-police assignment was in Hope in what was then called District G.

Barfield spent 32 years of his career as a patrol officer and as a post commander sergeant. In 1998, he was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to the state police Criminal Investigation Division, covering the patrol regions for Hope and Hot Springs.

“It was totally different from working patrol,” Barfield said. “On patrol, you are usually working by yourself, but with CID, working homicides, you are working with investigative teams with other agencies.”

In 2005, Barfield was made a captain and transferred to Little Rock, where he worked with CID officers all over the state. Finally, in his last position at the Arkansas State Police, he was named a major and was commander of the investigation division with more than 90 investigators in all parts of Arkansas.

Barfield said he has been involved in some major investigations, including what was known as the Operation Delta Blues case in the Helena-West Helena area.

“We and the FBI came in and arrested 70 people, including five law enforcement officers, in a federal drug-trafficking case,” Barfield said. “That was two years ago.”

In the case, more than 800 law enforcement officers at the local, state and federal levels made arrests on Oct. 11, 2011. Personnel from the Arkansas National Guard were also involved in making some of the arrests.

As a patrolman and an investigator, Barfield said, he was never shot at and was only in potential danger during his crime-fighting career.

“I was around where people were shooting, but I never felt anyone was firing at me,” he said.

However, he said being a real police investigator has not made him a fan of police dramas on television.

“I don’t watch police shows,” Barfield said. “You let me know when someone on one of those shows picks up a pencil and writes something down. A lot of real police work is in an office making calls and writing down information. And the offices are not places with bright lights and fog rolling across the floors.”

Having retired to his home off Congo Road in rural Saline County last year, he said he enjoyed spending time on his wife’s family farm in Okolona.

“We have some pine trees planted, but really, it’s just a rural home,” Barfield said.

After Sheriff Bruce Pennington resigned from the job, the retired investigator said he thought he might be able to help.

“I felt I could do the job. I had the background, and it would be a challenge,” Barfield said. “I talked to Judy, my wife, and she said it was my decision, and I applied, and they accepted my application.”

He said he doesn’t know any of the 102 employees in the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, which he said works as a plus for him.

“I have an advantage in coming from outside, but with the background in law enforcement,” Barfield said. “I can bring a fresh perspective and give a look at the procedures we will be using in the time I am in the job.”

The new sheriff said moving the Sheriff’s Office along is his top priority.

“I want to regain the trust of the citizens of Saline County,” he said. “I have talked with most of the deputies, and they think we can regain the public trust that has slipped since the misgivings in the community.”

In addition, Barfield said he wants to increase the training program for both his 13 investigative officers and 23 patrol officers in the Sheriff’s Office.

“Nothing special is needed,” he said. “We want everyone to understand about interagency cooperation within the department.”

In addition, Barfield said, he will be bringing some ideas from the state police.

“In the investigative process, we will be using procedures that come from CID and follow the guidelines of the state police,” he said. “Those procedures give the prosecutors a complete set of facts to work with. That is what investigators do. They report information that gives the total picture of the crime.”

Another thing Barfield said he will be doing quickly is naming a new chief deputy.

Having been named interim sheriff by the county officials, Barfield cannot run for the job next term. Barfield said that is fine with him. Asked if he was interested in job, he said “Well, not really.”

“I can work free from running a campaign next year, and not make decisions based on getting re-elected,” he said. “I would hope no sheriff would do that. I want to do what’s right.”

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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