After graduation, Barrett, now married, began a career in criminal justice. She worked as a criminal justice planner in East Point, College Park, and Hapeville, Georgia. In 1976, she became a curriculum specialist for the Georgia Peace Office Standards and Training Council (POST) where she produced the basic and advanced curriculum guides for Georgia's peace officers. In addition, Barrett established the first basic and advanced arson investigation courses and the first communication dispatcher course. Barrett later served as chief administrative officer for Richard B. Lankford, Georgia's first black sheriff.
In 1992, Jacqueline Barrett defeated the recently appointed Fulton County Sheriff Robert McMichael in the Democratic Primary, and Republican challenger, Morris Chappell, in the general election to become the nation's first African American woman sheriff. As sheriff, Barrett helped provide law enforcement for the successful 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. In 1996 Barnett faced an $812,000 "reverse discrimination" suit filed by 16 white Fulton County deputy sheriffs who claimed to have been discriminated against in promotions, transfers, assignments, and discipline. A federal court jury found in favor of the deputies and awarded them full damages. Despite the lawsuit Barnett won a second full term as county sheriff.
New controversy erupted in 2003 during Barrett's third term when she was accused of using $7.2 million in county funds to invest in a fraudulent real estate scheme. In August 2004, Governor Sonny Perdue suspended Barnett from office for the remainder of her term which ended on Dec. 31, 2004.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, "From the Grassroots" Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), p. 16-18.
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