The Messenger’s Political Series: Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton seeks re-election

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Watch the full interview here.

For those who don’t know you, give a brief bio – where you were born and raised, your professional career and your involvement with the community.

“I was born and raised here in Etowah County on the west side in the Gallant-Ivalee area. I  graduated high school in 1991 from West End High School. My wife and I got married right after high school and I went into the navy. I spent 4 years on active duty from ‘92 to ‘96 stationed in San Diego, California. When my time was up, I came home and worked as a  second generational mortician.

My father had opened Village Chapel Funeral Home. I managed it from ‘96 to ‘99, until I missed the military so much I joined the Alabama Army National Guard. After 9-11, I was activated for one year at the Huntsville Madison County Airport. I was cross-trained very quickly to become a military police officer.So serving up there in Madison County in the evenings for a year, we worked six days on and two days off, with not really enough time to drive back home. I would ride with the Huntsville Police Department.

When I returned back to the funeral business in 2002,  I decided to take the plunge and I went to work for then Sheriff James Hayes. I worked at the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office from 2002 to 2006. During that time, I spent my first year as a patrol deputy and I spent time in criminal investigations. I ended up being an original member of what is still known today as the Etowah County Drug Enforcement Unit in 2004.

In 2011, I became the assistant county police in the City of Glencoe and I was appointed Chief of Police and served there from 2012 to 2016. I loved Glencoe. We grew a department from six to 10 officers. We had a lot of success there. I was blessed enough to step up to be appointed Chief of Police at the Rainbow City Police Department in 2016, and it was a step up from a 10 member department to a 32 member department with more resources. I spent my time there from 2016 until I assumed office in 2019 as Etowah County Sheriff. I’ve been here ever since. On the education side of it, I got my Associate Degree back in 2004 in Criminal Justice at Gadsden State then I attended mortuary college at Jefferson State. I’ve been a licensed funeral director since ‘98. I still do that on a part-time basis. For 11 years, I’ve run law enforcement agencies.”

What initially inspired you to pursue law enforcement as a profession?

“Going into service right out of high school, serving my country, and even as a second generational mortician, my whole life has been dedicated to serving people. Law enforcement really gave me a purpose to fill that void in my life. I love serving people. Being an officer really tied everything I have already learned together. It’s not been the most paying [profession] per se, but it’s been the most satisfying.”

In your opinion, what characteristics should an effective sheriff possess?

“Integrity, strong morals and ethics, leadership and having good communication skills. Not only being able to work with the local government but also the citizens, to show them that they can have trust and that you’re doing your best [makes an effective sheriff].”

What do you believe the sheriff’s role is in the community?

“The sheriff wears many hats. The sheriff is a mentor, a leader of youth and really just a good communicator. A sheriff should want to move the community as a whole in the right direction.”

What inspired you to run for sheriff all those years ago?

“It’s always been a dream of mine to be in law enforcement and I really strived to climb the chain of command the right way. I always felt that it was my perfect opportunity. I had considered running for sheriff back in 2014 when I was Chief of Glencoe, and I felt like it wasn’t the right time. Then of course, 2 years later I became the Chief of Police in Rainbow City and I knew why. I needed that transition from the 8 men department to the 32 men department to prepare me for where I am today. I’m thankful for that.”

What prompted you to seek re-election?

“There’s so many moving parts and so much you want to learn. If I were sheriff for 20 years there would still be so much room for me to evolve. A lot of the progressive changes I’ve made, with the help of a wonderful staff, are still in action. I want to see those things through and come full circle. I’m not satisfied yet, and that’s why I’m running again.”

What are some key things you feel you’ve learned in this position?

“Out of 179 employees, 97 work in the detention center. Even though Etowah County is the smallest by land size, it’s one of  the largest county jails in the state. You learn how they interact and how there’s so many tasks that go into creating a good correctional facility. When you intermingle that with patrol and investigations, administrations and communications, there are different divisions in the sheriff’s office that are the same size [that I was chief of.] It’s all been an education that you would only know by going through it.”

What are some of those initial goals you considered when you were first selected that you might have accomplished or have been working on during this time?

“Our school resource officer program is something that is very important to me. Our youth is the future. When I became sheriff, we had 22 county schools and we had nine school resource officers. Today we’ve added five to that. We have 14 deputies in the schools, which gives us at least one per campus. We’ve been able to replace all of their vehicles, being able to provide over 40 vehicles to give those deputies the ability to teach D.A.R.E. to the kids. We also just brought on our Alliance of Therapy dog, Millie. It’s been a huge accomplishment.”

What would be your approach to your second term?

“I would just humbly ask for people to give me the opportunity to continue the direction we’re going and to complete some of the tasks we’ve set out to do.”

Are there any goals that you currently have in place that you would like to see carry over?

“We were able to bring in Lexipol, which is a policy writer which rewrites policies and procedures in the office. There are some speciality units we want to design for the east and west side of the county to do dual area partnership. We are engaging heavily in community watch groups getting out to the rural communities and getting someone in the neighborhood to be a point of contact and source of information that can be shared with us.  It’s so important to reach out and communicate with the community. There’s so many wheels in motion and I hope to be a part of.”

What are some things you’d like to witness change in Etowah County? 

“I feel like we’re on the right path in Etowah County as a whole, seeing from my seat that community officials appear (as a whole) to be working together. They’re all doing a good job. We are moving forward in that direction and continuing to have inner agencies and corporations working with each other regardless of what color uniform. We know we’re all after the same thing – a safer, secure community in Etowah County.”

What is the importance of establishing those relationships?

“For the community members to feel secure enough to report crime and problems within the community and for us to realize what resources we have and what we may need from our neighborhood. At the end of the day, we all live in Etowah County. Regardless of what city limits, what neighborhood or what town, we all live in it together. In working together, we can overcome anything.”

What should residents expect from you as sheriff, if re-elected?

“I know I only have two arms, two legs, two feet, but I feel like 103,000 parts sometimes because that’s how many citizens there are, and I work for them. I want to be a gatekeeper for the people of Etowah County where I live, where I was raised, and where I was elected first.”

What would be your ultimate vision for Etowah County?

“Law enforcement is forever changing in technology and tools and the way the world is. My goal is to keep up-to-date with the latest resources and tools available to us and make Etowah County the safest and secure county it can be.”

Is there a message you would like to send to voters, concerning your mission for the future?

“Please vote, regardless of who you vote for. Do it with your conscience and what’s best for your community. Today’s leaders are tomorrow’s future.”

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