Gwen Hightower, a Lieutenant in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Newton County Sheriff's Office, officially announced her bid to run as a Democratic candidate for sheriff on Friday.
Hightower said she had made the decision to run two months ago but waited to announce her intention to run until her son returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq.
"I wanted the family to know this was the decision I had made and I wanted everybody's support" before moving forward, she said.
A 24-year veteran of the NCSO, Hightower started her law enforcement career as a detention officer in 1984, was promoted to uniform patrol in 1988, and was assigned to criminal investigations in 1995, where she currently works with the sex offender registry task force.
Previously, she had been the mediator to the Newton County School System and represented the NCSO on a number of boards and organizations including Prevent Child Abuse Newton, Newton County Child Fatality Review Board, Leadership Newton County and the Newton and Walton County Child Abuse Advocacy Board. She said the issue of preventing child abuse is a passion of hers.
This will be her first time running for elected office.
She said she would continue to build on the structure and programs established by previous Sherriff Gerald Malcom and current Sherriff Joe Nichols and would maintain an open door policy.
"I want to make sure we utilize the great resources we have within our department that will help the operations of the department to continue to serve the county more effectively," she said.
Some of her listed short term goals include expanding the staff of the criminal investigations division, uniform patrol and detention division, designating a specialized recruiting officer, establishing district precincts to give communities more access for emergency and administrative services, starting a criminal justice apprentice or vocational program and sponsoring a weekly newspaper column with safety tips.
"Those are things that definitely can be met within the current budget," she said.
A long term goal would be establishing an in-house law enforcement academy, which would draw on veteran employees and certified instructors who already teach at law enforcement academies and would also support law enforcement in the surrounding counties.
She said her work with a variety of diverse communities in Newton County distinguishes her from the other candidates.
"Newton County has become a melting pot and that's what it's going to take to deal with the multicultural community in the county," she said.
If she were to be elected, she would be the first black female sheriff in Newton County.
She said she would be the best candidate because of her decades of experience and leadership with the sheriff's office, familiarity with the operations of the departments and her appointments to represent the NCSO in different organizations.
A life-long resident of the county, Hightower attended the Washington Street School, R.L. Cousins School and graduated from Newton County High School 1974.
She is the second candidate to run on the Democratic ticket. Lt. Ezell Brown, who manages the sex offender registry and activity for the NCSO, announced his bid to run as a Democrat last month. Also in the race are Republican candidates Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton and Lt. Bill Watterson and Capt. Marty Roberts of the NCSO.
The primary is on July 15 and the general election will be on Nov. 4.
Anyone with questions about her campaign can reach her at (404) 925-5880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.