Aaron Autry believes his depth of experience and vision for proactive law enforcement will help him serve White County as its next sheriff.
Autry, 45, plans to qualify as a Republican in this year’s election in what is shaping up to be a crowded field vying to succeed Sheriff Neal Walden, who says he will retire when his current term ends this year.
“Being born and raised here, my heart’s here. My family’s here,” Autry says. “I feel that with the sheriff retiring, it’s going to be some very big shoes to fill, and I feel that we need someone in there that’s going to be able to lead this county into the future and stop some of the issues that we have.”
Currently working as one of five motor officers for the MARTA Police Department in Atlanta, Autry began his public safety career in 1994 as part of the initial group of 911 dispatchers hired in White County as the service went online. He went onto stints working at the Hall County jail, as a patrol officer for the Cleveland Police Department and a stop in Forsyth County before joining the White County Sheriff’s Office in 1998.
Along with patrol duties as a deputy, Autry says he worked as a school resource officer and was the first narcotics K9 handler for the WCSO, helping write related policy. During this time, he was assigned for two years to the regional North Georgia K9 Task Force. After that period ended, Autry says he worked with a drug dog on the WCSO’s traffic division for six years and was eventually promoted to sergeant.
Autry says he is certified as a basic and advance K9 handler, along with certifications as a SWAT officer and in advance motor school.
Autry has worked for the MARTA Police Department since 2010.
“We [in Atlanta] have the exact same crimes as we do here [in White County], they’re just more abundant [there], so you see a lot more versus anywhere else,” he says.
Autry believes his experiences make him suited to be the county’s top law enforcement officer.
“In order to be a department head like sheriff, I feel you have to have a little bit of knowledge and experience in several areas,” he says. “All of that ties in, because if you’re going to be a department head, you’re going to be leading. If you’re going to be leading, you need to know what you’re talking about.”
Combating drugs in the community is one of Autry’s top priorities.
“My whole family’s here. It really hurts me to see this,” he says. “I feel that if we really try with the help of the community, we can slow this down tremendously.”
One of the initiatives Autry envisions for the WCSO is forming specialized units with two narcotics dogs to ramp up drug enforcement efforts.
“If I can get this stuff off the roads by attacking this on the roadway with some aggressive officers, I feel that we can make a dent in it,” he says.
Autry also says he would like to pursue establishing a county work-release program for qualifying offenders involving minor crimes or those delinquent on child support. He explains that if a court allows a person into the program, it provides a opportunity to earn money during the day to pay victim restitution or child support payments while still serving time in jail.
Under the proposal, Autry says money earned during work-release would also be divided up to help pay for the program itself, costs of incarceration at the county jail and provide some aid to the offender’s family so they don’t suffer from the consequences of the criminal act.
“I think it’s a wise decision. I think it’s something we can work with in the community,” he says.
Autry notes he’s seen new technology implemented during his time in Atlanta, such as smartphone apps that further encourages community reporting of criminal activity, and believes that could play a role here in the future. He also says law enforcement work carries a lot of liability for the county, which means deputy training will remain a vital tool.
“We have to be able to stand up and do what we have to do and make a split decision, and we need to be trained on this so that we’re reducing our liability, but we’re using a common sense law enforcement approach as well.”
Autry previously ran against Walden in 2016. As a candidate for sheriff once more, Autry says he motivated to stop the “evils” he’s seen over the years and in a bigger city from gripping White County.
“I know what those evils entail. If I’m elected sheriff, my goal is to stop those evils at the county line,” he says. “I see it everyday. I do not want it to come up this way. This is my hometown and I will defend it to the best of my ability.”
For more information on local positions up for election in 2020, click here.