MORRISON – After 4 months on the job, the excitement still is just as fresh as the day he was elected.
Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker enthusiastically approaches each day he sits down in the chair he worked so hard to get.
Booker, 52, has 20 years of experience working for the sheriff’s department – he was hired in 1998 and was chief deputy when he was elected – so he knew what to expect when he assumed the top role.
“Nothing has completely overwhelmed me yet,” Booker said recently, a hint of excitement in his voice. “I think being chief deputy and working with Sheriff [Kelly] Wilhelmi helped.”
Wilhelmi, appointed in 2008 to finish Roger Schipper’s term, retired after 30 years. Booker was his choice to succeed him; he had been preparing his right-hand man for taking over the job, and endorsed Booker in the 2018 election.
Booker worked his way up the ranks, from patrol sergeant to detective, lieutenant, and chief deputy.
Experience like that is valuable when tackling the long list of issues that comes across his desk daily.
“It’s extremely busy. You are constantly busy,” Booker said. “Sometimes I come in on Monday and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at all that happened this weekend.’ But our office does a good job of informing me all the time of what’s happening.”
He keeps busy by design, because he wants to be involved in the communities in the county and keep up on their issues.
It helps that he has strong roots throughout the county, having worked as a patrol officer in Rock Falls, Prophetstown, Erie, Morrison and Tampico. He still has contacts through those career stops and wants to take advantage of them.
“I want to work more united, so there’s tons of meetings, lots of meetings that I consistently go to,” Booker said. “I do not go to them just because I ran for sheriff, but I think we do great things when we unite.”
One area where he hopes this approach will pay off is in fighting the growing problem of drug sales and addiction, especially methamphetamine. Booker said that by working together, law enforcement can find several ways to attack the problem.
Although he handled several responsibilities as chief deputy, as sheriff, he’s encountering a whole new host of duties – paying the bills, for example.
“One thing is I’ve seen is the expense it takes to run the county buildings,” he said. “It’s paying bills every day, which has absolutely nothing to do with police work.”
Such is the life of the top administrator in the sheriff’s department. He understands that it’s not going to be glamorous every day – but he has goals and keeps working toward them.
He has already accomplished one of those goals he promoted while running for office: increasing his department’s interaction with the community.
He also made good on a promise to focus on mental health: the county board recently approved his proposal to transfer the behavioral mental health treatment of jail inmates to the county’s health department, to provide more consistent care from providers already familiar with them as patients.
It’s a good start, but Booker knows there will be other challenges ahead and he plans to meet them with the same enthusiasm and excitement he feels each day he walks into his office.
ON THE JOB
Most days, you can find Sheriff John Booker at the Whiteside County Sheriff's Office at 400 N. Cherry St. in Morrison. He can be reached at 815-772-4044.