Time for reflection

Published 8:02 am Friday, April 23, 2021

VALLEY — Sheriff Sid Lockhart reflected on his long career in local law enforcement at Wednesday’s meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. Lockhart was elected sheriff of Chambers County in 1994 and has served since that time. He is not seeking reelection after his current term expires in January 2023.

“I started with the sheriff’s office in the Christmas season back in 1976,” he said. “I was on the night shift, and it was during the time the night-shift guy was both a jailer and a dispatcher at the same time.”

That was during a time when there might be no more than 40 or 50 inmates at the jail.

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“It’s a completely different world now than it was back then,” he said.

The jail is now a good bit bigger, and there are more people being housed there. It was unheard of at the time for a woman to be held there on a murder charge, but it’s not that unusual now. Women being jailed there for long periods of time before a trial was a factor in the design of a recent expansion of the jail.

One major change since then is that 9-1-1 is much more sophisticated than it used to be.

“The 9-1-1 system we have today is the best thing for Chambers County since sliced bread,” Lockhart said. “We have some of the best dispatchers that can be found anywhere, and we have a modern, first-class EMA center.”

Lockhart went from being a county deputy to being a Lanett police officer in 1979. The City of Valley was incorporated in May 1980 and formed a city police department the next year. Lockhart was one of its first officers. He later went back to the sheriff’s office and went through the progression of being a deputy and an investigator to moving on to a position in the district attorney’s office under Rea Clark. He later went back to the sheriff’s office as the chief deputy.  When his long-time mentor, James Morgan, decided not to seek reelection in 1994, Lockhart tossed his hat in the ring for the first time. He carried every precinct in the county except for Ridge Grove — that’s where his opponent lived and had lots of friends and relatives.

Lockhart has carried every box in every contested election since then.

One of the promises he made during that first election was to have inmates out on county roads picking up litter. “They picked up tons of it over the years,” he said. “We used to keep track of it at the landfill. We would weigh it when it came in. The problem with picking up litter is that no matter how many times you do it, it gets messed up once again in no time. I’m probably the only sheriff who was in charge of a landfill. I did that at one time.”

Lockhart is proud of the K-9 program that started under his administration. The drug dogs not only do great law enforcement work, they are loved by kids throughout the county. Handlers have taken them on school visits, and the dogs are always the stars of the show. Three dogs have died during their service, two of cancer and one in the line of duty. Narco is a legend for the manner he passed on.

Under Lockhart, the sheriff’s office started a dive team. It has replaced what the Valley Rescue Squad had done for years. When called on, CCSO divers go into the county’s lakes and streams in recovery efforts.

“They sometimes look for items that somebody tossed in the water,” Lockhart said. “We have a SWAT team that assists our drug task force when they are needed.”

Lockhart said it had been a long-time dream of his to have airborne officers. That came true with the purchase of a fixed-wing plane from Etowah County.

“It was something they were getting out of, and they were looking for a buyer,” Lockhart said.

The initial asking price was in the $60,000 range, but they came down to $14,000. Lockhart said the plane proved to be a valuable tool in aerial searches.

“We had it for a few years before selling it for more than what we paid for it,” he said. “We now have two helicopters. We have reached out to the public to do events for them. We recently did a golf ball drop at the country club for a local Masonic lodge.”

Over the years, the sheriff’s office built a firing range on the north side of LaFayette. Officers go there for practice, and it’s used in a women’s self-defense course offered by the department.

One subject Lockhart likes to talk about is the annual rodeo, held at the rodeo arena between highways 77 and 431.

“We will be having our 25th one on the weekend of May 12-14,” he said. “These rodeos have helped us raise a lot of money for various needs we have in the department. Something about the rodeo we have really liked is the opportunity to have a special needs day. Children from a multi-county area come to it and have a great time. We set up lots of games they can play, and there’s even a special needs rodeo.

The CCSO has a couple of vehicles that get lots of attention at public events. One is the meth hearse and the other is Meagan’s car, a like-new hot pink Camaro named in memory of Meagan Bonner, who died of a rare form of childhood cancer.

He credited Macy Whorton for being the department’s multi-task person.

“I can’t say enough about her,” he said. “She does so much for us.”

The sheriff is very proud of the job done by his jail crew during Covid-19.

“They did a great job,” he said. “We didn’t have one positive case.”

One big difference Lockhart has seen over the years is the growing need for law enforcement officers. With more crime than there used to be, there’s a greater need for officers to deal with it.

“We had 12 deputies when I first came here,” he said. “We have 35 now. It’s getting harder and harder to keep good people. We hire them and pay to send them to the police academy where they are trained. They then can move on to a surrounding law enforcement agency where the pay is better. I would like to get our pay up to better compete with this.”

Lockhart said his department would be having their annual onion sale in early May. He makes a trip every year to Vidalia, Georgia to bring back a trailer full of their world-famous sweet onions.

“We usually raise around $2,500 doing this,” he said. “We sell lots of them to local restaurants. We will have information on this on our Facebook page.”

Lockhart has no plans of endorsing a candidate to succeed him. He will leave that up to the voters. Being sheriff, he said, is a position only an experienced officer should run for. He said that several first-rate officers have talked about running.

“The people can’t go wrong with choosing any one of them,” he said.