ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Officer Byron C. McCarty is living proof that friendliness and kindness can be effective tools in law enforcement, at least in a small town. McCarty, known simply as ?Barney? to young and old alike, is ending a tour of duty that has spanned more than a quarter century in Hillsboro.
After Friday, he?ll begin the vacation days owed him, then officially retire.
During his long tenure, McCarty has patrolled the streets of the city looking first to assist, not to arrest.
?It?s nice when you can help people,? he says. ?I think all policemen say that, but it?s really true.
?And then I like putting bad guys in jail,? he adds, ?and getting them out of society.?
McCarty says he has had to do more of the latter over the last decade as the population of the city has grown?and changed.
?You have a lot more different people moving in from the bigger cities,? he says. ?A lot of people have moved here because their kids were in trouble in other places. They blamed it on the kids from the other schools. But when they come to Hillsboro, they get in trouble here, too. So maybe that wasn?t the problem.?
Juvenile crime has always been the primary focus for a police officer in Hillsboro, but the rate and severity of incidents have increased in recent years, McCarty says.
?Before, kids would steal pop bottles,? he says. ?Now they burglarize houses and things like that.?
Confrontations with adults have increased, too, due in large part to drugs, alcohol and domestic violence.
The change has left its mark on McCarty.
?I used to think there was a little bit of good in everybody,? he says. ?I?ve dealt with some people in the last 15 years that there?s no good in them. They need to be put away, and removed from society.?
As with juvenile troublemakers, the adult violators, for the most part, have moved in from other places.
?I believe a good, strong church foundation really helped this town at one time because basically we didn?t have a lot of problems with (church-goers),? McCarty says. ?They?re good, honest, hard-working citizens and their kids are good, too. They may be ornery like every kid, but we didn?t have the problems we do now.?
McCarty got into law enforcement almost by accident. A Marion native, he joined the Navy Seabees after graduating from high school.
After completing his service, McCarty moved to Florence and became friends with Art Miles, who was serving as undersheriff for Marion County at the time.
When Miles became police chief in Hillsboro, he hired McCarty as a patrolman. That was October of 1974.
McCarty became chief of police in the mid-1980s, a position he held until Dan Kinning was appointed chief last fall in preparation for McCarty?s retirement.
From the beginning, McCarty has taken the low-key approach to local law enforcement.
?You always hear people say, ?I try to treat people like I would want to be treated,?? McCarty says. ?I went to (policing) school and the first thing the guy says is, ?Don?t treat people like you want to be treated because you don?t know how that person wants to be treated.? I thought that was a good thing. So I try to play it by ear.?
McCarty?s ?ear? is usually bent toward kindness, especially with young people.
?I try to be nice, I try not to be overbearing,? he says. ?You?ve got to remember that when you were young, you probably did a lot of the same things they did. Put yourself in their shoes and realize that years from now, they probably won?t be doing those things.
?If they do something really bad, you need to get a little bit stricter with them. If they don?t, just be nice to them and explain to them that you?d appreciate it if they didn?t do it again. If they do it again, then next time they?re going to pay for it.?
McCarty remembers one typical incident when he caught a juvenile who had stolen more than $100 worth of pop bottles. The youth had never been in trouble before. Rather than file charges, McCarty made the boy return what he had stolen and apologize to the business owner.
That young man never got into trouble with the law again.
?It seems to work,? McCarty says of his approach. ?If it doesn?t work, then the next time you charge them. I think they all should be given a chance, unless it?s something really violent.?
Being hard-nosed isn?t nearly as effective, McCarty believes.
?Most of them know right from wrong,? he says. ?They don?t need a big lecture. I?ve found that to be true of most people. There are some people who think they are above the law and shouldn?t be arrested, but they?re few and far between.?
For McCarty, the key has been building relationships with local young people before trouble starts. That was particularly effective early in his career, when his department was having trouble with Tabor College students.
?You just start talking to them,? he said. ?You treat them decently, and make friends. They start thinking, ?Maybe all policemen aren?t out to get us.?
?I made a lot of friends with them and with kids in high school,? McCarty adds. ?I?ve had a lot of them look me up when they come back to town for class reunions.?
McCarty has seen a lot of changes in the police department since he began. From two officers and one car, the department has grown to five full-time officers, three vehicles and a drug dog.
The expansion has been necessary, McCarty says, because the city has expanded and society in general has deteriorated.
?I?ve had old-timers tell me, ?Well, years ago we had one guy and he was on foot.? You can?t do that anymore. Crime would be running rampant if you did that.?
McCarty said one of the best moves the city made was hiring a full-time detective several years ago. Investigative work simply wasn?t possible before that because officers were on 12-hour shifts and didn?t have time or energy to follow up cases.
?Our case-solved ratio went up from about 30 percent, which is about the average, to about 90 percent,? McCarty says.
He calls Kinning and Dan Harper, who was a local officer before becoming Marion County sheriff, ?two of the best investigators I ever met in my life; they really got stuff done that we didn?t have time to do.?
Another factor that has made his work easier is having good mayors and council members in charge.
?I?d have to say the mayors have treated the police department real well, and so have the councils,? he said.
With his retirement from the department, McCarty says he?ll miss not being in on a ?good call.?
?Everybody likes to get in on the action,? he says. ?A lot of police work, you?ve got to admit, is boring.?
More than anything, though, he?ll miss the opportunity to help people.
?They talk about community policing, well, we were doing that years ago,? McCarty says. ?People have come to me about their faucets leaking, wanting to know if I could find somebody to help them.?
On another occasion, he was asked if he could chop down some weeds in a ditch, and one woman called to ask him to kill a spider in her house.
All of which he did.
?I don?t mind that,? McCarty says. ?That?s a part of it. I want to feel like part of the community. There are some people who just don?t know where else to go for resources.?
McCarty says he won?t miss the late nights on patrol, especially when the snow is flying and the temperature is below zero. And he won?t miss chasing after dogs that are running loose.
?I never thought it ought to be a policeman?s responsibility to be in uniform and throw some stinking dog into a $15,000 police car,? he says. ?I always thought the city should have an animal-control officer. I still think they need one.?
McCarty also won?t miss the unfounded complaints some citizens make from time to time, that the department is lax against underage drivers, beer drinkers and drug users, or that officers treat some people differently because of their status in the community.
?That kind of bothers me when people think you?re not doing your job,? he says.
Those annoyances aside, McCarty has no regrets about the past 26 years.
?I?ve felt lucky,? he says. ?I?ve worked for a lot of good people here. People have treated me real nice. I appreciate that, and that?s why I?ve tried to return the kindness.
?People in Hillsboro are nice, let?s face it,? he adds. ?And that?s why, sometimes, we end up with some problems here because people are too nice, too trusting. There are some bad people in the world. And some of them have moved here. It?s time to realize that.?
Even so, that hasn?t changed his usual mode of operation. He still responds first with kindness because in the long run it pays dividends.
?I?ve arrested people and put them in jail, and I?m still friends with them,? he says. ?When you can do that, that makes you feel good.
?You don?t have to act like someone?s a criminal when you stop them,? he adds. ?You can go by the book, or you don?t have to go by the book. If I stop somebody, and I?ve known them for 15 or 20 years, I don?t treat them like they?re going to shoot me when I go up to the car.
?Maybe I?m too under-cautious, but I haven?t been shot yet, so I must be doing something right.?
And he?s been doing it for a long time.
?I think all new policemen start out that they?re going to change the world,? McCarty says. ?Give them a couple of years and you realize, hey, you?re not going to change the world. You just see what you can do to help it.?
McCarty isn?t sure what he?ll pursue after his retirement officially kicks in. He?s already working part-time as a host at Olde Towne Restaurant, and enjoys the job. He also is interested in taking computer classes and possibly working in the local high school as a social studies aide.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF