Sheriff John Simpson is putting his idea into practice.
A few simple and uneventful ride-alongs in the passenger seat of a Liberal, Missouri squad car were all it took for 15-year-old John Simpson, who now serves as Barton County sheriff, to know law enforcement would be his life’s career.
“The town was small — I knew the officers from growing up there — and decided to ride with them because it was something different. I really enjoyed it and after four or five times, I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. And his mind was made up without even getting in on the more “exciting” side of crime fighting. “Whenever they got a serious call, they’d pull over at the next intersection and drop me off. The town was less than a mile from one side to the other, so I’d just walk home.”
Holding fast to his decision, after graduating from high school in 1999, he took a fulltime job dispatching for the Barton County Sheriff’s Office. In 2002, he attended Missouri Southern State College’s Law Enforcement Academy and continued working in dispatch until a patrol position came open. He went to the road January 1, 2005. Shannon Higgins was sheriff at that time.
He loved his job and worked hard at it, which earned him a promotion to sergeant in 2007. In 2009, when Mitchell Shaw took office, he was promoted to his chief deputy. He stayed there until June 2012, when he took the position of chief of police at the Liberal PD.
“I enjoyed the job very much, but it’s hard to be the chief in the town where you grew up, so I decided to run for sheriff in 2020. Mitch and I have been friends for 20 years, so it wasn’t anything personal,” Sheriff Simpson said, adding that, like everyone else who ever ran for office, he just felt he had a better idea. “Serving as sheriff had been a goal of mine since starting at the sheriff’s office in 1999, and I just thought it was my time to try for it. I must have been right because I won.”
After taking office, he made several changes in both their look and in their operations.
Deputies are now required to wear uniforms to work, and the only facial hair allowed is a mustache.
He remodeled their office space, and updated their fleet, purchasing four patrol cars to replace the four that each had more than 250,000 miles. Once those vehicles arrive, they’ll be getting new computers installed. Sheriff Simpson is also in the process of updating their radio system to MOSWIN (Missouri Statewide Interoperability Network), a statewide public safety communications system that will allow them to communicate across jurisdictional and discipline lines.
To cut down on delays and problems clearing cases, he also implemented new guidelines that require deputies to have reports done in three days. Then they get submitted to a supervisor for review. Once needed changes are made and the reports are approved, they’ll be sent to the chief deputy for final approval before being submitted to the prosecutor.
In addition, Justin Ersham returned to Barton County to work as chief deputy and he brought his K-9 Barrett with him. The two have already been called out numerous times in their own county and others.
Sheriff Simpson said the biggest “surprise/headache” he faced after taking office was the jail.
“As a dispatcher, I helped in the jail, so I had a little experience — but not near enough, I quickly found out,” he said. “Staffing has been an ongoing problem. We’re down to two fulltime and two part-time employees in the jail. I need to hire at least two more fulltime and also have two openings for patrol deputies. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but when you only have five, it is. I’ve been working the road, as has my chief deputy, just to make sure it’s covered.”
The condition of his 27-bed jail is also a conundrum. Built in 1937, the antiquated facility has multiple problems that can’t easily be fixed.
“It’s old and worn out. It’s steel and concrete and the steel is rusting and the plumbing is leaking in the concrete. There have been no updates that I can remember in the last 22 years,” he said. “We’ve closed it to make repairs, but before we start, I want to bring the community in to take a look. I’d like to get their input on whether we should sink money into repairs or instead work on a plan to replace it. I believe that if we build it right and we build it large enough to house for other agencies, we can ease the burden on Barton County and on our taxpayers — but we have strong support from our community, so I want them involved in the process.”
And he knows his community. In addition to being a lifelong member of Barton County, he’s served the past eight years on the Liberal R-2 Board of Education, and he’s served on the Barton County Ambulance District Board of Directors. When he’s not working, he and his wife Shasta, who is his biggest supporter, are cheering on their two youngest at football, baseball, softball, basketball and volleyball games.
“I have to miss some of them, and that’s tough, but the kids understand. I took this job because I care about my community. I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as sheriff and as long as I’m here, I plan to do everything I can to make this an even better and safer place to live.”
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