Progress 2020: Sheriff Horton creates change in Etowah County community

March 2, 2020 chris
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Photo: Pictured above, Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton serves his community. Photo courtesy of Etowah County Sheriff’s Office.

By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer

On Jan. 14, 2019, Jonathon Horton assumed the role of Etowah County Sheriff. From the moment of his election, Horton pledged to serve his community, creating a safe, pleasant and prosperous environment for the county he calls home.

Born at Holy Name of Jesus Hospital in Gadsden, Horton grew up in Ivalee and Gallant. He graduated from Etowah High School in 1991 before attending Jefferson State, where he majored in Funeral Service Education. He later enrolled in Gadsden State Community College where he majored in Criminal Justice.

Horton is an experienced, versatile man who performed a vast variety of services before his election as sheriff. From 1992 to 1996, Horton served in the U.S. Navy before spending five years in the Army National Guard. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Horton devoted himself to one-year active duty as military police. He managed both family owned funeral homes Village Chapel and Glencoe-Hokes Bluff Funeral Home and worked as the deputy at Etowah County Sheriff’s Office in the capacity of patrol deputy, criminal investigator and narcotics agent in the early 2000s. In 2006, Horton created and operated Mortuary Transport Services, which he later sold as a successful business that still prospers today.

While serving as the chief of police for both Glencoe and Rainbow City, Horton witnessed different aspects of law enforcement and the realities that officers must overcome to ensure their community remains safe. Horton realized that while he dedicated himself to both cities, with a larger department and a greater budget, he held the ability to create the most beneficial impact. With his knowledge and experience, Horton felt led to pursue the opportunity to employ his understanding as a law enforcement executive on the highest local level. He decided to run for Etowah County Sheriff.

“I had a positive experience at both municipalities,” said Horton. “I felt it was imperative to launch a campaign and capitalized on an opportunity to make a difference.”

The campaign proved increasingly challenging. For Horton and his family, his campaign for Sheriff was not just an election—it was the hardest thing they ever endured. Though the election process was daunting, grueling and even nasty, Horton stood firm and bravely in his beliefs, giving God the glory for the peace and victory that encompassed his family.

“[When I won the election] I was overjoyed and humbled all at once,” said Horton. “I was so thankful and appreciative to the people for entrusting me with such an important role. I was in awe that God had answered my prayers and cared enough about me after all my mistakes in life to allow me to serve in such an important role. When the polls closed on that muggy summer night, and the results surfaced, the overwhelming difference separating our campaign as the winner was breathtaking. For a moment of time, all the negative disappeared, all the hard work paid off and God was magnified in our lives. I knew immediately following the celebration, there was a tremendous amount of work to prepare for. To lead is to serve, and servitude is a tireless duty.”

Horton always envisioned himself with a career in law enforcement and pursued the profession after his active duty in the army and cross training in the military police. With his past experience and passion for his position, he transitioned into his role as sheriff smoothly, drawing on his seasoned leadership skills and understanding of the inner workings of law enforcement.

His experience garnished from working with city council translated to his involvement with county commission, so that he has the ability to provide them with accurate information to make educated decisions. He implements his School Resource Officer knowledge that he gained from Rainbow City, the first law enforcement agency to place SRO’s in schools, and his nine years as chief of police prove invaluable. Chiefs, and particularly municipal police officers as a whole, must work every angle of the profession, from wrecks to homicides, and the fewer resources available the more responsibilities they become accountable for. As Sheriff, if Horton has reliable hands in the field, he can make better decisions from the desk.

“[As Sheriff] I also employed the experience I had communicating with the citizens from a law enforcement perspective,” said Horton. “The average citizen simply deserves and wants to be educated about their concern. Everyone has a problem. No matter how small or big, [the problem] is big to them or they wouldn’t come to us.”

For Horton, an average day at work is constantly changing. Though his days rarely follow a set schedule, he tries to focus on one aspect of his job he refuses to overlook: communication. To Horton, communication is the most important task in every situation. From responding to emails and voicemails, to making his rounds at the jail or strolling through criminal investigations, to visiting the office’s administrative section, Horton communicates to his employees and the public that he is dedicated to performing his duties. Horton believes that each employee and his or her task is important, and if making himself visible and available gives his employees the security and confidence to become more successful and accountable, then that is what he does. Horton strives to create an environment where he remains accessible to his employees to help them and encourage them, reminding his employees that he is only one phone call away.

Horton’s goal as Sheriff is to promote overall safety throughout the community and transparency for the office. Horton wants to provide a safe environment that new businesses and industries will recognize as a valuable location to inhabit, where residents are proud of their communities. Horton works to give transparency that would instill and prolong confidence from the community and add School Resource Officers to each Etowah County school to develop rapport between law enforcement and future generations of students. Horton advocates for Etowah County students and encourages them to seek help when needed. Within the detention center, Horton strives to increase programs to help rehabilitate or deter repetitive visitation and to give inmates an opportunity to use provided tools to change their behavior for the better, while investing in deputies who understand their role and geographically know the region to promote retention. Horton’s vision for Etowah County includes establishing consistent rural area patrol to deter crime before it occurs and instituting neighborhood watch programs in each community, encouraging community unification to promote rehabilitation for those in need.

Before his election, Horton planned to finish the jail’s renovation and make the jail safer for the deputies and inmates, strengthening retention within the correctional facility. Since his election, Horton finished the jail’s construction. The Etowah County Detention Center now operates with doors that lock, fixed windows and fully functioning security cameras. Horton initiated a three-step raise for the correctional deputies and revamp the training program, with a one-step added to hiring pay. After engaging in the television documentary 60 Days In, Horton and his team tackled a major contraband issue within the detention center. He and his team implemented a “Tek 84” 150,000 dollar body scanner to deter contraband and implemented online pistol permit purchasing.

Horton’s long-term goals for Etowah County are to increase retention and solidify “The Impact Program,” a renovated Substance Abuse Program (SAP) to be housed in the new jail annex, providing a true rehabilitation and learning environment for those that want to better themselves, separating those who seek help from those who do not. To aid in “The Impact Program,” Horton forged partnerships with a variety of outside resources. He plans to create opportunities for inmates to give back to their community and to restore a veteran force of deputies.

“Experience goes a long way in this business,” said Horton. “Experience is more than mastering the skills of the profession. It is knowing the geography of the territory and being fluent and knowledgeable of resources for people in a time of need.”

Horton applied several changes to protocol within the detention center to create a more secure environment. He established a new position, Court Liaison Deputy, to ensure that every individual booked within the facility is afforded a proper bond, 72-hour hearing and receives proper legal representation. In a little over a year, all the positive transformations Horton developed represent his mission as sheriff: to promote the overall safety of Etowah County and to serve as a viable resource when called upon in a time of need.

Throughout Horton’s time as sheriff, he learned that some issues he cannot conquer alone. Through surrounding himself with trustworthy, reliable employees, Horton creates a network of individuals who share his vision for a safe, thriving Etowah County and law enforcement that protects its residents. With so many entities and individuals who rely upon the sheriff for a multitude of reasons, Horton understands that he must perform what he pledged, serving his community diligently and providing its people with the proper resources to benefit their lives. With determination, insight and an unwavering dedication to Etowah County, Horton proves that the new sheriff in town has everyone’s best interest at heart.

“Helping people [is what I enjoy the most about serving as Sheriff],” said Horton. “[I enjoy] having the opportunities to sit and listen and try to make a difference on individual and community levels. [I have] a tremendous amount of respect for all public servants. It is truly a servant’s job. [I enjoy having] the influence to make positive change.”