Millsboro Police Department Sgt. Barry Wheatley was named Officer of the Year for the department and honored for 20 years of service at this year’s Annual Awards Banquet.
The 46-year-old Seaford native, who worked in the restaurant industry before being sworn in as a police officer when he was 26, said he was humbled by the awards, especially since the commendations came from his peers.
“I truly believe, looking back on your career, the people you help train, when they recognize you, that means a lot. As a leader, you always want to groom someone to take your place down the road, whether it’s tomorrow or 10 years from now,” Wheatley told the Coastal Point.
“I knew nothing about the award in advance. Chief [Brian] Calloway keeps that pretty close to his vest. I was completely blown away,” he said.
For two decades of service, he was presented with an 8-inch high, weighted acrylic sculpture that, he said, “has been on my desk since the day after” the banquet on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
He also received an Officer of the Year pin that he wears on his uniform.
A Millsboro police officer his entire career, Wheatley, who was hired by the department in March 2001, recalled when there were sunflower fields where Lowe’s and BJ’s Wholesale Club are now.
“There was a little rest stop across from Arby’s where you could pull in. Plantation Lakes was just clearing the field and building. I don’t think we are seasonal anymore. We have become more of a year-round destination. We used to get a lot of residual traffic going to the beach, but they weren’t here all year at that time. Once highway businesses start to take off, residential growth comes with it,” he said.
Although a hotel in Millsboro wasn’t imagined 20 years ago, Hotel Avid was approved by the Millsboro Town Council in July 2019 and is now under construction.
“It’s refreshing to see. We have instructors come to train us at the police department, and you always want to give instructors a nice hotel to stay in,” Wheatley said.
Despite growth, and certainly more traffic, in Millsboro than in years past, the responsibilities of being a police officer remain consistent, Wheatley said.
“The job is the same. We’re still here to protect and serve, but the way we do the job has been changed a lot due to technology. I had a camera in my car from the first day I started here in Millsboro. Texas was one of first agencies to have them. It was like a camcorder on the dash. You got two hours of VHS tape, then you had to change the tape,” he recalled.
Hired by former police chief John Murphy, Wheatley was trained by Calloway, who was on the force when Wheatley was hired.
Wheatley worked in restaurants beginning when he was 13 and was kitchen manager at Georgia House in Millsboro when a friend who was an officer told him the department was hiring. It piqued his interest.
“Police work is customer service-driven, as well as restaurants. We’re in the business of providing a service. We need to be knowledgeable. We have procedures and the end goal is to satisfy the stakeholder. Like restaurants, we want to satisfy the community,” he reasoned.
Praising Wheatley, Calloway said his “community-minded approach has allowed our department to continue to maintain trust within our community.”
“Sgt. Wheatley was recognized for his involvement in Special Olympics, as he frequently provides his assistance in organizing many of the events in Sussex County. Additionally, through Sgt. Wheatley’s efforts, the Millsboro Police Department’s Whiskers for Wishes campaign has been a tremendous success. Each year, this program allows our agency to waive grooming standards for the purpose of raising funds for the Millsboro Police Department to sponsor needy families in the Millsboro area at Christmas.
“Due to Sgt. Wheatley’s efforts in this program, our department has been able to sponsor over seven needy families each year,” Calloway told the Coastal Point.
Wheatley and his wife of 18 years, Crystal, have two daughters, 11 and 14. They live in Millsboro.
Also honored by Calloway at the ceremony were Vonshae Wise, receiving the Chief’s Commendation Award; Cpl. Matthew Dufour, Merit Award; Cpl. Dallas Millner, Exceptional Performance Commendation; and Pfc. John Wharton and Cpl. Seth Bullock, Performance Commendations.
Recognized for military service were Lt. Robert Legates, Dufour and Pfc. Kyle Wharton, U.S. Army; Sgt. Evan Roger and Sgt. David Moyer, U.S. Marine Corps; Sgt. Patrick Forester, U.S. Air Force; and Millner, Pfc. Chris Ebke and Pfc. John Wharton, National Guard.