BREWER — Perhaps it hit him Christmas Day. That’s when Brewer Police Chief Steve Barker, his staff trimmed for the holiday, donned a uniform and patrolled the city for the first time in three years.
“I always liked the excitement of law enforcement,” he said recently. “That’s one thing I’ve missed being behind a desk. I want to get back into the action.”
In just three weeks, Barker will trade the relatively placid Brewer beat for the war-ravaged streets of Bosnia. The Brewer chief was among 18 national law enforcement officers chosen for a yearlong stint training the Bosnian police force.
Their task is formidable — encouraging communication among police departments used to fighting a war, and advocating Western law enforcement standards in a land of mass graves and minefields.
Barker said he loves his job and the city, but with only four years to go before a planned retirement, it was time for a change.
“I’ve been here 21 years,” said the 41-year-old Barker. “This won’t only be an incredible learning experience, but what a break. I’ll be doing police work in a whole different country and a whole different culture.”
City Manager James Kotredes granted Barker a one-year leave of absence starting Jan. 23. The City Council is likely to approve the appointment of Capt. Dan Green as acting chief next week.
Late this month, Barker leaves for a brief training and testing program in Fort Worth, Texas. Then, on Jan. 30, it’s off to the city he’s already calling “beautiful downtown Sarajevo.”
His selection came as no suprise to Chuck Shuman, the retired Brewer captain who hired Barker in 1976 and calls him “a born police officer.”
Recalling his first meeting with Barker, then 19, Shuman said: “It was the long-hair era, and Steve came into my office with hair down to his back. I told him he should take a good look in the mirror and ask himself if he wants to be a police officer. He came in the next day with a crew cut.”
Mayor Janet Cobb said she was sorry to lose Barker, even for a year, but said his selection reflects well on the city.
“For a town this size, to have its chief chosen is quite an honor,” she said.
Since breaking the news to the city Tuesday, he keeps getting the same question: Is he afraid?
In an interview, he intially laughed off such queries. Then he mentioned the September helicopter crash in Bosnia that killed Olivio Albert Beccaccio. Beccaccio was a friend from the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, from which Barker graduated in 1991. Along with Beccacio and six others, five U.N. police monitors died in the crash.
“Believe me, I’ll take all possible precautions,” Barker said. “I plan on coming back in a year.”
He will serve as a police monitor for the U.N. International Police Task Force, established under the Dayton peace accords to monitor police officers throughout Bosnia. The first monitors were deployed in February 1996, part of an international force that is expected to grow to 1,700 officers.
When Barker first received an informational packet on the U.N. mission last September, he didn’t think he had a chance of being selected. He applied, he said, “for the hell of it.”