Retiring Millsboro officer recalls life on the beat

Millsboro Police Sgt. Barry Wheatley, left, receives a tribute from 41st District Rep. Rich Collins during the Jan. 4 town council meeting, recognizing Sgt. Wheatley’s distinction as Millsboro Police Department’s 2020 Officer of the Year. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe_

MILLSBORO — Sometime this summer, Sgt. Barry Wheatley will close the book on his career as a member of the Millsboro Police Department – a 20-year tenure that began with connections through the restaurant industry.

“I had a friend of mine who got hired by another agency, somebody who I met in my teens. He was about eight years older than I am,” said Sgt. Wheatley.

His older friend was with another agency but went through the process with officers from Millsboro PD.

“So, I got to know the Millsboro officers when I worked at the Georgia House in town,” said Sgt. Wheatley, who was kitchen manager at that time. “I’d see them out and about. It came up that there was a spot open, and I applied here. I was fortunate enough to get selected.”

Sgt. Wheatley, 46, was hired by the Millsboro department in March 2001. He graduated from the police academy at the end of June 2001.

He has risen through the ranks, from initial patrolman, to patrolman first class in 2003, corporal in 2006 and then his current rank of sergeant in October 2011.

Since January 2018 he has served as the departmental accreditation manager, which he says “encompasses a myriad” of things, primarily Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies accreditation. He has also served as training officer and firearms instructor.

He will retire in several months and move on to another employment opportunity. Sgt. Wheatley leaves with numerous commendations, accolades and honors, including Millsboro Police Department’s Officer of the Year for 2020.

As a teen, he washed dishes at a retirement home. Up until he was 26 and was hired by Millsboro Police Department, his work history spanned the gamut.

“From dishwasher to waiter to bouncer. I worked at the Flying Club in Salisbury, bartended, bounced — everything you could think of. Ruby Tuesday’s, fast food, I worked at Flagship, the big boat in Seaford. My later years of high school I worked there as a cook and loved it,” Sgt. Wheatley said.

Millsboro Police Sgt. Barry Wheatley, left, and Staff Sgt. David West, of the Sussex Community Corrections Center, stand behind the 48 Mountaire roaster chickens cooked rotisserie style in preparation for the Thanksgiving Day Blessings for Badges. (Submitted photo)

A Seaford High School graduate, Sgt. Wheatley attended Delaware Tech and then through Wilmington University earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and a master’s in homeland security.

Along the way, he has been instrumental in programs and events that extend the tentacles of Millsboro Police Department into the heart of the community and in some instances beyond.

That includes support for Special Olympics Delaware, the Torch Run for Delaware Law Enforcement, Blessings for Badges and the department’s Whiskers for Wishes campaign.

He has also been involved in Blessings for Badges, an initiative launched in Sussex County in 2018 to provide Thanksgiving holiday meals to first responders, fire service and paid ambulance personnel, paramedics, dispatchers, correctional officers and local and state police, expanded to include Kent County.

“This past year we pushed almost 1,000 meals between Kent and Sussex with that,” Sgt. Wheatley said.

In late December, Millsboro police teamed with Grace United Methodist Church and the community to deliver holiday gift packages to children and 14 needy families. This year’s amount, fueled by substantial support from residents and the business community coupled with donations from Millsboro officers permitted to grow facial hair through a town council grooming standards waiver, topped the $10,000 mark.

Millsboro Police Sgt. Barry Wheatley, left, checks off the list as Cpl. Jonathan Zubrowski and Sgt. Patrick Forester carry new bicycles during a Whiskers for Wishes program. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

He has been recognized four times by Mothers Against Drunk Driving that culminated in MADD’s Lifetime Award. He also received a Lifesaving Award for helping to rescue a boater in an overturned vessel on one of the area ponds.

“A civilian and I grabbed a boat off the shore, paddled out and pulled him into shore,” said Sgt. Wheatley.

Sgt. Wheatley received the Officer of the Year honor in October. At the Jan. 4 town council meeting he received a tribute from 41st District State Rep. Rich Collins, a tradition Mr. Collins has undertaken since his election to state office.

Sgt. Wheatley and his wife Crystal have two daughters, ages 14 and 11.

Sgt. Wheatley sees himself as a normal person whose job for two decades has been as a police officer.

“I am an officer when this uniform is on but when it comes off, I’m a dad, a brother, a husband, a friend. I’m just like everybody else. I think being involved in your community helps people realize you are more than just a badge and a uniform,” he said.

“To this day, there are still kids that I see out on the street that call me Coach Barry. I’m not ‘Mr. Softball Expert’ but I was there just willing to try and help out with whatever was needed,” said Sgt. Wheatley, who coached Little League when his daughters played. “If you are involved in your community enough, they know you. So, it’s not just Millsboro Police showing up, it’s like ‘Hey, that was Coach Barry.’”

With a bottle of cold water in hand, Millsboro Police Department Sgt. Barry Wheatley chats with Millsboro Fire Company personnel prior to the Greater Millsboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Stars & Stripes fireworks event.

Sgt. Wheatley has also mentored at East Millsboro Elementary School, another way for him to be part of the community.

“They identify with you outside the uniform. Oftentimes, people just look at us in a negative light, whether it is from events that are broadcast on the media,” Sgt. Wheatley said. “It’s awesome when they know that you’re more than just that badge that shows up, that he’s the guy that lives across the street … who just wants the community to flourish and everybody to have a great life.”