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Booker wins sheriff race; plans to focus on mental health, school safety, crimes against seniors

MORRISON – Chief Deputy John Booker, a law officer with more than 2 decades of experience and his retiring boss’s blessing to take over the reins, is Whiteside County’s new sheriff.

The 52-year-old Rock Falls Democrat won the race against co-worker Sgt. Kristopher S. Schmidt, a Morrison Republican, with 11,750 votes to 9,645, or 55 percent of the total, according to unofficial election results.

“This is the happiest day of my life, aside from when my children were born,” a clearly elated Booker said. “It’s something I’ve worked so hard for since I ran against Sheriff Wilhelmi.

“I’m going to do all the right things for the citizens of Whiteside County. I don’t care if they’re a Democrat or a Republican, a Booker supporter or a Schmidt supporter.”

Booker first was hired by the department in 1998 and worked his way up the ranks as a patrol sergeant, then detective, lieutenant, and now chief deputy, which is the sheriff’s second in command. He’s also commander of the county SWAT team.

Before that, he was an officer with the Rock Falls, Prophetstown, Erie, Morrison and Tampico police departments.

Booker has made focusing on mental health and substance abuse training, creating a specially trained team to help prevent crimes against seniors, instituting a coordinated network to train for and respond to school safety issues, and increasing the department’s interaction with the community among his priorities.

He has chosen sheriff’s Lt. Seth Janssen to be his chief deputy.

Republican Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi, appointed in 2008 to finish Roger Schipper’s term, is retiring after 30 years. He endorsed Booker, whom he defeated in 2010, and for the last 3 years has been preparing him for eventually taking over the job.

Schipper, also a Republican, also threw his support to Booker.

Schmidt congratulated Booker and his team, and thanked his own team and all those who supported his candidacy.

“I heard their praises 110 percent,” said Schmidt, who will remain with the department.

“The main thing is, we praise God when we win, we praise God when we lose, but in the end, it is what it is, and we just push on from here.”

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