“You would expect things to occur here that may not happen in the city of Amherst or Wakemen or Wellington or Grafton or Lagrange,” said Police Captain Clifton Barnes about the city of Oberlin. Barnes works on Oberlin’s police force. He continued, “Those communities are unique themselves but we just seem to be more unique. That’s not really a term, but that’s what we are. But that usually doesn’t enter into how we do our jobs — it’s just something that we observe as we go by.”
Barnes, as captain, is largely responsible for public relations and “the operations of the department.” According to Barnes, those operations include “scheduling and training and keeping abreast of what’s going on with the department as far as investigations and so forth.”
Although he has worked on Oberlin’s police force for over 27 years, Barnes has only been captain for a year and a half, so the responsibilities of the position are relatively new to him
When asked what brought him to Oberlin from his home state of Massachusetts, he answered in a matter-of-fact tone, “The job. I had a friend on the department, and it was very difficult in that time, in the ’70s, to get a job generally. These are the days of affirmative action, and since I don’t fit into a minority category, it was a little more difficult to find jobs at that time.”
Despite this unromantic beginning, 27 years seem to have endeared the city to him. When I asked him what sets Oberlin apart, Barnes answered good-naturedly, “Almost everything.”
He elaborated, “The attitude of the people is frequently a little different. We have all kinds of [degrees on the] political spectrum here. We have people that are more liberal-thinking, more conservative-thinking. I’ve talked to a few people that have come in to visit, and they’re amazed at how many people don’t have television sets in our city.”
He continued, “This is the kind of place where you either want to stay or you want to leave.” Captain Barnes’ long-term residence seems to qualify him for the former category.
“There’s always bad parts of the job,” he said, “[and] there’s always good parts of the job. There’s been more good than there’s been bad.”
As for becoming a police officer, that seems to have been an easy career choice for Barnes. He told me, “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do — since I was a ten-year-old. I had a very positive encounter with my [local] police department. They were involved in the schools as far as safety programs go, and it just impressed me. And the people I hung around with were involved in that type of thing as well, as far as the adults as I was growing up with.”
Although police work was Barnes’ ambition and he has extensive experience, the challenges of the job persist to this day. Captain Barnes spoke at some length on the strained relations police departments nationally have with their localities. In this regard, Oberlin can be seen as a microcosm of larger trends.
Barnes expressed regret that the relationship between the police department and the college student body is not better, but he said that relations have improved in the past few years.
In a measured tone, he said, “Back in the end of ’89, I saw a big shift from having parties which are typically mid-term and towards the end of the semester to a party every weekend, and we’re talking a large party every weekend, and all of a sudden Oberlin became a party school for a little while. That seems to have calmed down a little bit as far as the complaints we got. And that’s just the people that come to Oberlin for their education.”
Of town-police relations, Barnes said, “We’ve gone through
periods where it was definitely a feeling of us versus them. People felt that
the police department was just out to get them. We’re trying to make some
efforts to let people know that we’re just doing what they’ve asked
us to do — enforcing the laws.”