PITTSBURG — Sandy Horton grew up in Crawford County and began his 33-year career with the local sheriff’s department while still attending Pittsburg High School.
For the last 17 years of that career, Horton headed the sheriff’s office before retiring in January 2013. But even after retiring, Horton has remained active in the world of law enforcement as executive director of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association.
Last week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced the former Crawford County sheriff has been appointed to a new advisory board to support the operations of the Kansas Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) system.
"This partnership and infrastructure is important as we do all we can to inform and assist crime victims," Schmidt said in a news release. "I am confident the VINE Advisory Board will keep the project focused on victims and will be responsive to their needs and concerns."
Horton "was instrumental in the implementation" of the VINE system, according to a news release issued last year when Schmidt presented Horton with the Outstanding Statewide Champion Law Enforcement Award. VINE, which allows victims of domestic violence and other crimes to receive automatic notifications if their abuser is released from jail, is now active in 95 jails statewide after Appriss Insights, the company that hosts the program, initially approached Horton about it several years ago when he was still sheriff.
"I had a high interest in participating," Horton said. "I thought that would be a wonderful tool for victims to be notified automatically when inmates are getting out of jail where that’s someone accused of domestic battery or similar crimes where you have a victim and a suspect arrested and taken to jail, and for victims’ safety and awareness how nice it would be to be able to automatically communicate that to the victim."
The sheriff’s office already had a process at the time for attempting to notify victims or victims’ rights advocates when their abusers were being released, Horton said, but it didn’t always go smoothly.
"So when the inmate was going to be released from jail we would see that in the folder, we would pick the phone up and call — and if the person picked up the phone that was great, we made notifications," he said. "But sometimes that didn’t happen."
Deputies would leave a message and make a note to call the person back, but would then move on to other jail business, such as feeding inmates or distributing medications.
"So then by the time you get back to making the phone call, you know, you have a potential of a lot of time passing by, and that would affect — at least in my opinion — the victim’s safety, so that’s why it was such an impressive tool," Horton said.
Wyandotte County was the first county in Kansas to implement VINE — which allows victims or their advocates to receive notifications by phone, email, text message, or all three — and the system came online in Crawford County in December 2017.
"It’s been quite the challenge but Appriss is a great company to work with and we’re just excited to be where we’re at," Horton said of the effort to implement the notification system across the state in recent years.
Initial funding for that effort came from a federal grant through the Kansas Department of Labor, he said, while the bulk of funding now comes from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.