Community champions: Justin Barley
Marking whirlwind first year as Hartselle’s top cop
By Rebekah Martin
2019 was a life–changing year for Hartselle Police Chief Justin Barley – and he has big goals for 2020.
The husband, father and fishing enthusiast said a career in law enforcement has been his goal since his early high school years. He was appointed as the chief in January of this past year, and he said it’s been a wild ride.
“It has been an absolute whirlwind of a first year,” Barley said. “I feel good about it. We’ve made a lot of progress with just getting back up to being fully staffed. When I took over, we were short four people, and we’ve been able to get those positions filled and add six new positions along the way, with five of those being part time.”
Barley said his department is blessed with plenty of talent. “Spirits have been very high – we’ve had a lot of people buy in to what we have been trying to do here,” he said. “Hartselle has a lot of talented officers, and beyond what they’re able to do on patrol, we’ve had several projects we’ve been able to task people with that have been very important to improving our department.
“With all the hiring we’ve done,” he added, “we’ve been able to evaluate our hiring process and make it more efficient and streamlined.”
The introduction of a lateral transfer program that allows HPD to start incoming officers at more competitive pay ranges has been beneficial to that hiring process, Barley explained.
“That program has been very successful, and we’ve been able bring in some very experienced officers who have been able to hit the ground running,” he said.
A 20-year-veteran of the department, Barley said bringing in experienced officers is important now more than ever because of what the next few years will hold for HPD.
“Much of our command staff now are eligible to retire in the next one to three years, so our biggest challenge in 2020 will be filling those positions left by retirees,” he said. “We’ll have to get the new generation of leadership prepared so we can pass the torch. We want the police department to continue to be successful, and we want to continue to serve Hartselle and help keep it safe and provide a high level of service.”
Barley said he became interested in working in law enforcement in his teenage years, but it wasn’t until he was dating his now wife that he had the opportunity to join the ranks of the men and women in blue.
His wife’s grandfather was the Lawrence County sheriff at the time, and he offered Barley a job as a deputy. That was in 1997, and the following year, Barley graduated from the police academy and joined the Hartselle Police Department in 1999.
Barley quickly rose through the ranks, being promoted to sergeant and then lieutenant. Making chief has been a long-term goal for Barley – one he said he’s been working toward for most of his career.
“That’s what I tried to focus my education on,” he said. “From the FBI National Academy to special training to become certified, I tried to seek every opportunity I could to get myself in position for the job.
“When I first started, it was just the excitement of the job,” he added. “I barely made any money – I think I made $8 an hour in ‘97, and I had to spend a fortune to become a police officer. I think they issued me a badge and a couple uniforms, and I had to supply everything else myself.
“At the time, though, it was just so fun. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for it.”
Barley said he still has fun on the job, even two decades later. Before being appointed as chief, he went back to patrol for a year and half in 2017 – a move he said sharpened his skills as a police officer.
“Everybody tells you they want to serve, give back and make a difference, and those things are all very true. I absolutely love living in Hartselle and being able to serve our community in this way. There’s a lot of fulfillment in that,” he said. “It’s something I’m very proud that I’m able to do. I count it as an extreme honor to get to do this job every day.”
The excitement factor in the day-to-day duties is something Barley said keeps him on his toes.
“It’s not the same thing every day – you don’t know what to expect when you come in,” he said. “You never know what the radio is going to bring, and with the exception of training and court, we really don’t have much scheduled for us; it’s really just come in and see what the day holds.
“I like that. I like the freedom of being able to get out and about and interact with people,” he added. “I’ve always just enjoyed the work, and the added benefit of being able to do that work in Hartselle makes it that much better.
“It’s still a community that really appreciates their law enforcement. They make us feel very special. Often law enforcement is thankless job, but that’s not the case in Hartselle.”
In recruiting new talent for the department, Barley said the community pride and appreciation, along with all Hartselle offers its residents, are a selling point.
“That’s a huge recruitment tool for us, especially when a potential officer is not from this area,” he said. “We can sell this community and all it offers. From the school system to the level of care and appreciation we receive from the people we serve, Hartselle is just a total package.”
Barley said Hartselle is “still a busy town with plenty of calls for service and plenty of challenges, but on the flip side of that, it’s not so inundated with so much violent crime that we feel like we can never scratch the surface of the trouble.”
“So, it’s a perfect balance. You also have a community that is highly invested in itself, and I’ve found that is the formula for success.”
Barley has been married to his wife, Mandy, for nearly 20 years. The couple has two children – Claire, 17, and Aaron, 16 – who are both students at Hartselle High School.