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Hightower announces candidacy for sheriff

COVINGTON - "I want to be your next sheriff," is the motto Newton County Sheriff's Office Investigator Lt. Gwen Hightower wants residents to remember when they head to the ballot box later this year.

Hightower, who has worked for the NCSO for the past 24 years, recently announced her intention to run for sheriff as a Democratic candidate.

A lifelong resident of Newton County, Hightower says she has long had aspirations of becoming sheriff but didn't make her final decision to run during the current election cycle until about two months ago.

"As your next sheriff, I would like to continue to build upon the organizational structure that has been established under the leadership of former Sheriff (Gerald) Malcom and our current sheriff, (Joe) Nichols. These men are two pivotal people who have inspired and prepared me throughout my career with the sheriff's office for this role," she said in a prepared statement. "There is no doubt in my mind that I will be an effective leader as your next sheriff in Newton County."

Hightower has several short-term goals she would like to accomplish if she is elected sheriff, which include:

· establishing a criminal justice apprentice program or a vocational program within the county school system to prepare graduates for a career in law enforcement;

· creating district precincts within the community that will allow residents easy access to administrative and emergency services;

· expanding staff throughout the NCSO's different divisions;

· establishing a recruiting officer to scout law enforcement academies and travel to job fairs to market the NCSO to job hunters;

· and, to sponsor a column in local newspapers, which would offer safety tips and feature a deputy, allowing residents to put a face with the deputy's name and badge number.

One of the biggest challenges facing the NCSO today, according to Hightower, is the county's growing population and manpower shortages being experienced by the Sheriff's Office.

"Right now, what I want to do is establish precincts in all the different districts to help eliminate some of the pressure off of uniform patrol," she said. "By establishing precincts, people can actually come in and file reports or retrieve reports without having deputies respond to calls that are not normally investigated."

One of Hightower's long-term goals is to establish an "in-house" law enforcement academy at the NCSO to use their own training facilities and instructors, many of whom already teach at other law enforcement academies in the state.

Hightower began her career with the NCSO in 1984 when she was hired by then-Sheriff Gerald Malcom as a detention officer. Throughout the years, she has been promoted to sergeant of uniform patrol and to lieutenant of the Criminal Investigations Division, where she served as second in command under Chief Investigator Dell Reed.

Hightower has also worked as a school resource officer supervisor and has been appointed by Nichols to represent the NCSO in many different organizations, including the Prevent Child Abuse Newton board, Newton County Child Fatality review board, Newton and Walton County Child Abuse Advocacy board, Newton County Gang Intelligence board and Leadership Newton County.

She currently serves as an investigator working on the sex offender registration task force.

Hightower pledges to continue supporting all of the community-oriented law enforcement programs the NCSO participates in, such as the women's self-defense course and firearms safety class.

Among Hightower's credentials include a Bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Mercer University and a master's degree in public administration from Troy State University.

She and her husband, Johnny Hightower Sr., have four children - daughter Mia and sons Johnny Jr., Milton and Cedric. She was also reared in and is a member of the Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Hightower encouraged anyone with questions about her campaign to send her an e-mail at gwenhightowerforsheriff@gmail.com or call her at 404-925-5880.

Hightower is the fifth person to announce candidacy for sheriff thus far. She will be opposed on the Democratic ticket by NCSO Lt. Ezell Brown.

NCSO Lt. Bill Watterson, NCSO Capt. Marty Roberts and Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton have announced they will be running on the Republican ticket.

The General Primary Election takes place July 15. The General Election will take place Nov. 4.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.