The two candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the sheriff's race currently work together on the Newton County Sheriff's Office sex offender registry task force.
So when Lt. Gwen Hightower announced that she would be throwing her hat in the ring and running against Lt. Ezell Brown, who ran in 1996 as the Democratic nominee and had previously announced his intention to run whenever current Sheriff Joe Nichols retired, the relations remained friendly and supportive, said Hightower and Brown.
"It's a friendly working environment," Hightower said in a previous interview.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're still the same as we were in 1996 or even yesterday. The race is open to all," Brown said.
Brown started his 34-year law enforcement career with the Covington Police Department and moved to the NCSO 29 years ago, working as a supervisor in the jail and in the criminal investigations division. He was on the Covington-Newton County SWAT team before overseeing the county sex offender registry.
Hightower began her law enforcement career as a detention officer at the jail 26 years ago and moved in to the patrol division, criminal investigations, was a mediator to the Newton County School System, and currently works with Brown in the sex offender registry task force.
Brown's platform focuses on what he calls "the big three" - drugs, sex and violence.
"They are all inter-related, like a puzzle - one which we must all work together to effectively bring the pieces together," Brown said in an e-mail interview.
The factors involved in issues such as drugs, juvenile delinquency and violent crime are complex and requires a comprehensive plan with close monitoring he said.
"A new phase of law enforcement must be implemented," Brown said, regarding drugs in the county. "The old tactics of kicking in doors has never worked and certainly, going forward, we need a united front that will include governmental agencies, human services, private citizens, religious communities, educational systems, prevention, and intervention activities."
To address the drug problem in Newton County, Hightower proposed continued support existing county programs along with implementing multi-jurisdictional programs.
"I would continue to support the Newton County Sheriff's Office and Covington Police Department multi-jurisdictional drug task force and re-implement the Interstate and Community Drug Interdiction programs," she said.
Regarding juvenile crime and the recent jump in homicides, Hightower proposed establishing a mentoring program for troubled youth and working with domestic violence program Project ReNeWal to help victims and officers recognize "the symptoms of the cycles that ultimately leads to a homicide."
Both candidates said they felt safety and physical crimes against persons or property was a concern for Newton County residents.
To help deter random crimes, Hightower proposed increasing officer presence and patrols.
Brown said he would encourage communities to develop or revitalize neighborhood watch groups and youth crime watch programs and would include "intergenerational experts" to address concerns with young and old citizens.
On maintaining community relations and improve communication and access to the public, Hightower said she would maintain the "open door policy" held by Nichols and would establish district precincts to give citizens easier access to administrative and emergency services.
Brown said he would enhance the communication features of the NCSO Web site, promote two-way conversation between the community and NCSO and encourage officers to become a part of the community advocates' efforts.
Both Hightower and Brown say they have been meeting with citizens and plan to meet and talk with more residents in the community.
Hightower will be holding a fundraiser and barbecue May 31 at the Lodge Hall on Geiger Street starting at 8 a.m.
Brown is scheduled to be in the Winchester Park neighborhood on June 4.
There has also recently been some discussion of a possible sheriff's candidate forum, organized by Rich Simpson, host of "The Chat Room" on Covington Cable Channel 20.
Simpson said the idea struck him while he was doing interviews with five of the six candidates for his show. While the forum is still in the beginning stages of planning, he said all the candidates expressed interest in the idea.
Websites and contact:
hightowerforsheriff.com, (404) 925-5880
www.ezellbrownforsheriff.org, (678) 507-6460