“I didn’t think I’d be leaving so soon,” says police chief Barnett Jones.
“I love this community,” says Jones from his third-floor office in the new Justice Center. “This is my town. I was born here. I went to school here. Some of my first dates were here–and my first protests!”
Yet at the end of March Jones is leaving his job as Ann Arbor’s chief of police after six years. “You’ve got to know when it’s your time,” he says. “And my job here is done.”
When he came to Ann Arbor from Sterling Heights in June 2006, Jones was the fourth chief in fifteen years. Like all of them, he faced the same seemingly unsolvable problems: a run-down headquarters and hostile unions. And. like his immediate predecessor, he had a police force that had shrunk sharply–from a peak of 201 officers in 2001 to 149 when Jones arrived. After the economy crashed in 2008, that number went down again to a low of 119 this year.
All those problems are now solved–more or less. The chief points to the department’s new headquarters in the Justice Center and to union contracts under which officers are paying more toward their health care and retirement benefits. Thanks to the concessions, “the department is hiring, and there have been promotions,” Jones says. “It’s a good sign. When I came, my mission was to stabilize the department, and the department is stabilized now.”
Detective sergeant Pat Hughes, head of the Command Officers Association of Michigan local, says the departments unions have “maintained a mostly positive relationship with Barnett Jones during his tenure as chief. While we may not always agree on many of the issues that were discussed, we would characterize our relationship with Chief Jones as positive and respectful, with open communication and accessibility.”
“It’s never been easy here,” Jones continues. “We’ve lost officers every year.” But Jones is proud that “I piloted us through the hardest times for law enforcement since I’ve been in the business–and I’ve done a damn good job.”
Jones’ bosses agree with his self-assessment. “Barnett came with a great reputation, and he leaves with a great reputation,” says mayor John Hieftje. “I met with him every Wednesday to go over his numbers, and I was always impressed with his command of detail.”
And, just as important when property values were falling and state revenue sharing was shrinking, “Barnett has a good understanding of what’s happening statewide,” Hieftje says. “He recognized reality and what had to happen.” Or, as city administrator Steve Powers puts it, “Barnett did a very good job of leading a department that needed to reduce expenditures to meet revenues.”
“I did what I had to do whether I liked it or not, and that included laying people off,” says Jones. “I sat down with every person who got laid off, and I got some venom spewed on me. I tried to find jobs for everyone, but I still got venom.”
That’s the downside. On the upside, Jones’ biggest satisfaction as chief came “last December, when the last officer moved into this building. When I came, we were in the basement with water and radon and asbestos leaks. It should have been done forty years ago. But it did finally happen.”
Jones recommended deputy chief John Seto as acting chief and thinks he deserves the job permanently. “He’s qualified. He’s gone to the FBI academy. He’s gone to all training, and he’s smart, personable, and knows the culture.”
“John is a very strong candidate,” says Powers, and Hieftje agrees. “He has all the qualities we’re looking for.” Though the police chief is currently also the safety services administrator and thus the fire chief’s boss, Powers says he’s “evaluating” whether that will continue.
Jones, fifty-nine, says that, while he’s leaving his job in Ann Arbor, he’s not planning on leaving law enforcement. “I don’t want to retire,” the feisty chief says. “I’m looking for a new challenge. Not at the U-M and not at EMU. But if somebody asked me, ‘Would I go to Detroit?’ I’d say, ‘Hell, yes!’ It’d be great to be able to help bring a city back.”
Wherever he ends up working, Jones says he’s not abandoning Ann Arbor. “I love this city, and I was here before I was chief, and I’ll be here after,” he says. “I’m looking forward to going to Michigan games with my wife and son and not having the responsibility for security so I can enjoy the game!”