When Carrboro got word that veteran police chief Carolyn Hutchison would be stepping down in October 2013, a nationwide search began to find her replacement. More than 100 applicants from all over the country put their name in the mix, but in true Carrboro fashion, they stayed local.
Carrboro Police Capt. Walter Horton was sworn in as chief of police in September 2013 and took over the position a month later.
Horton was born and raised in Carrboro, growing up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood off of E. Main Street before attending Chapel Hill High School and graduating in 1987. After graduating, Horton tried his hand in everything from an electrician’s assistant, to landscaping, and was even training to become a Duke Power lineman.
“Then I realized I didn’t like heights too much,” Horton said seated in his office at the Century Center. “So I went back to the local grocery store I had worked at for a while.”
It was there that Horton’s interest in law enforcement began to grow. He said he began talking to some of the officers working security in the store, and when an opening emerged Horton thought it was the time to go for it.
“I’ve always had an interest in it, but my mom always said it was too dangerous and you know, you do what your mother says,” Horton said. “After talking to them and doing some ride-alongs, I realized I like this and it just went from there.”
Horton joined the police force as a patrolman in 1993. Since then, he has tried his hand at almost everything the police department has to offer. After 20 years of experience and a lifetime of living in Carrboro, Horton knew he could do the job and decided to apply.
“Being from Carrboro and being in the department for so long, I knew the police department, I knew the town, what they expected of us and how they wanted to be policed,” Horton said. “So I threw my name in the ring and I was lucky enough to get it.”
Town Manager David Andrews said that although Horton’s Carrboro roots were a plus, he proved himself as the top candidate for more than just his familiarity with the town.
“The competition was really fierce, with a lot of very qualified candidates,” Andrews said. ““We did a national search with well over a 100 applicants, narrowed it down to six finalists, brought them in, ran them through an assessment and testing alike, and Chief Horton came out on top”
The highest score of any candidate, coupled with his knowledge of what makes Carrboro tick, meant Horton was the obvious choice.
“It was a combination of the two. The score certainly was very important from an objective standpoint, but there’s still a certain amount of subjectivity to it,” Andrews said. “Carrboro is a unique community. It’s a progressive community. Policing is different here and I think he has a really good understanding of working in the Carrboro community.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle says she is happy to see Chief Horton expanding on some of the priorities and initiatives of former chiefs. That includes things like the Coffee with a Cop program where citizens can come out to start their day with a cup of coffee and get to know the officers and community better.
One of Horton’s biggest priorities has been increasing and bettering communication between the police department and the people of Carrboro, something Mayor Lavelle says Horton has pushed since day one.
“He came to a town meeting and basically sat up front and answered everyone’s questions about policing in Carrboro,” Lavelle said. “I think it was very noble and forthright of him to sit up front and answer questions, and were going to try to continue those types of conversations with the community.”
Horton says with the events that have unfolded across the country recently in Ferguson and New York City, his top priority is continuing to build the relationship between the police department and people of Carrboro.
“Everyone is under a lot of scrutiny. It’s brought up some topics and concerns with citizens about how we operate,” Horton said. “We acknowledge those concerns and are going to do what we can to deal with them. I think right now, it’s about maintaining and building trust with members of the community that may not trust the police. We try to keep the communication lines open on what we do and why we do it.”
Horton says he hopes to continue to strengthen the communication between the department and the town by giving back as much as possible. He plans to start more community oriented programs like a citizen’s police academy so people can get a better understanding of how the town is policed, as well as bringing back the children’s summer camp that once existed.
Still, at the end of the day, Horton says communication is key.
“It’s all about communication and having people understand what we do,” Horton said. “We need to work together to continue to make Carrboro a safe place.”
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