“Keeping it country” with love, respect

Published 5:34 pm Sunday, July 2, 2023

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Chris West stepped out of retirement and into the Lowndes County Sheriff’s shoes in 2019 after the tragic shooting death of “Big John” Williams in 2019. Since then, he’s been serving county residents by “keeping it country” with a healthy dose of love and a heaping helping of respect.

“Our agency is a country agency,” West said. “I have a term I use, “keep it country,” because to me, if I keep it country, I keep it simple. We have our [standard operating procedure] which is the law. But, at the same time, we can keep our lives simple by loving and respecting each other.”

West, an Elba native, served in the U.S. Marine Corps just over five years, and became aware that drugs like Cocaine and Crack Cocaine were impacting American communities.

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“I began to see what was going on in a lot of communities,” West said. “I would come back home to Elba to visit and I could see the results of drug abuse.”

Challenged by what he witnessed, West considered his military experience and realized a law enforcement career specializing in drug enforcement could enable him to help..

“I figured law enforcement could help make a difference, but I never cared about being a patrolman,” West said. “I was really more concerned with drug enforcement.”

West served in drug enforcement in Geneva County and in Elba before receiving an offer to work in Marshall County’s drug unit.

He gained experience there in dealing with drug cartels and drug trafficking, sharpening skills which would influence his work in Lowndes County.

“I received a lot of training in how to investigate drug cases,” West said. “By the time I came to Lowndes County, I had a tremendous amount of training in drug enforcement.”

In 1996, West joined the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, assigned to the Second Judicial District Drug Task Force as a drug agent and later as task force commander.

West worked as Chief Deputy under Sheriff Chip Williams, then as Police Chief in Fort Deposit before relocating to Clark County to work as Chief Deputy.

He came back to Lowndes County under “Big John William’s” term and had retired when Williams was slain in 2019.

“I was working part time in Fort Deposit,” West said. “We went down to the scene when Big John was shot and I was on the phone with my wife when William Johnson walked up. I grabbed him and we got him in cuffs. He still had the gun at the lower part of his back.”

After placing Johnson in custody, West went home and learned from his wife, Kimberly, that a Republican Party representative had called, urging West to apply for the now open position of Sheriff. Considering the request, West applied for the position.

“The governor’s staff and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency had issues in the county after John’s death,” West said. “So, when Governor Ivey called, I thanked her for considering me and I told her that if she appointed me, I would make her proud.”

West was appointed and since that day, he has worked to serve friends, family, and the community with honor and dignity.

“This office is really personal for me,” West said. “My grandparents raised me. They came up as sharecroppers. My mother worked in a factory. They struggled a lot raising me.

“Through my office, I can make sure that the law enforcement services residents get are fair. I can ensure that if we come by someone’s home, we take the time to hear what they have to say. The law says we hear both sides of the story. We have to create balance and get down to the truth.”

West uses his training and experience to ensure officers fit within the department and the unique needs of the county’s rural communities.

“[Good service] comes from within,” West said. “We have to be willing to open ourselves, drop our shoulders, and exhale. I tell new officers, ‘Forget what you learned. Drop your shoulders, exhale, and let’s have a good time.’ We want to serve people the way they deserve to be served.”

Kimberly West said her husband of 18 years loves the Lowndes County communities. He brings the job home, enlisting her help to make cakes or talk over situations until he can formulate a solution to citizens’ problems.

“He’s just real,” she said. “He cares about the people and brings their concerns home with him. If someone is going through a situation, he will work on it until he has a solution.”

Family is important to the Sheriff, she added, and he helps officers find the work/life balance needed to serve well on duty.

According to Lieutenant Nick Cognasi, West guides officers into the training and responsibilities that enable them to achieve their personal career goals.

“He helps them grow in what they want to do, not just in the Sheriff’s office, but in law enforcement in general,” Cognasi said. “He helps younger deputies by mentoring and checking on them, which means a lot.”

West leads by example, letting his officers and Lowndes County citizens see that he is available and dedicated to providing fair law enforcement to everyone.

“I think it’s good to walk your walk and talk your talk,” West said. “People see that. You don’t have to say you’re concerned; people will see you are when you really love them. They’ll see those actions.”

West especially enjoys helping senior community members, like his neighbor Annie Bailey. When her late husband Joe was diagnosed with cancer, the Wests often assisted her with his care.

“We try to do work with our seniors,” West said. “That’s actually my thing right there. We’re all here together and we want the same things for our kids and families.”

By “keeping it country,” West said he hopes citizens know that officers respect them.

“It’s important that we love people,” West said. “The track record of law enforcement around the county is not really good right now. But, if we love people enough, they will see we are genuine and they will trust us.”