CHAMBERS COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL)— Chambers County, Ala. voters are getting ready to elect a new sheriff for the first time in 28 years. Sheriff Sid Lockhart is retiring at the end of his term and voters will choose his successor in November.
Retired Alabama State Trooper Jeff Nelson was the clear winner of the Republican primary, getting 66% of the vote and beating Chambers County Chief Deputy Richard Carter, something he credits to the community’s want for change.
“Well, the thing is, is Chambers County has had the same Sheriff for almost 30 years… pretty much for the last six decades, it’s been run the same way in Chambers County, and the citizens of Chambers County want a change… I think the way most of the people the county looked at it is if he [Richard Carter] is elected, it’s going to stay the same. They want a change. They want things to change, the way things are run, they want a fresh look and a fresh face. That’s what I think I got the vote for, was for a change in Chambers County. And that’s what I bring is a change, I look at things different, I’ve worked from one end of the state to the other,” Nelson says.
Now Nelson is looking ahead to his next opponent, Democratic nominee Jeff Blackstone, who has law enforcement experience in Chambers County and the surrounding area.
Nelson says if he is elected sheriff, his main goal is to build up his deputies by providing additional equipment, pay, and training.
“The sheriff’s only as good as the deputies that are under them so, if you keep these guys going, give them the training, knowledge, and education they need to do the job to be the best they can. It’s just going to make it so much easier, and get these guys back out in the county. We’ve got to get back to giving our guys the money they need to the job, the equipment they need to do the job, and being able to retain them,” Nelson says.
Blackstone says he would work to breathe life back into neglected educational and community programs, like Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE.
“I would also like to have a drone program, have a couple deputies certified in drones if we need to put a drone in there. Just, you know things like that as far as you know restart my DARE programs, we haven’t had a DARE program in quite a while I would love to restart that. Restart my junior deputy program, I think COVID’s kind of shut that down but that’s where a little older kids can come out and ride with deputies and see what it’s all about. Maybe they want to start a law enforcement career.”
Both Blackstone and Nelson spoke about Chambers County’s helicopters, and agreed they are the most expensive piece of equipment the county owns however, their future plans if selected as sheriff differs.
“All the policies of Sheriff Lockhart’s, I’m not going to change. He’s got good policies, he’s a good sheriff. I will as far as aviation, I am going to keep aviation. I want to be able to solicit the other counties, other cities, and maybe to join in to have an aviation unit. I think it would benefit this county greatly. The county already has two helicopters, and that’s one of your biggest expenses. If we could get the other counties to join in to help fund it, then we could keep it,” Blackstone says.
“We have three helicopters in this county, actually, two that fly and ones a parts helicopter. And that is the most expensive piece of equipment that Chambers County, the entire county possesses. Now, they got in on the 1033 Program, which is a military program. So they got the helicopter free, but that’s all they got was a helicopter. You’ve got to fuel it. You’ve got to maintain it. You’ve got to get the yearly inspections. We had to train a pilot who was my counterpart that I ran against, and that cost money. Cost a lot of money. We have two helicopters here in this county. If you look around, none of the other agencies have those. Lee County right next door has probably ten times the budget we have in this county. They don’t have helicopters. They rely on the state or they call Chambers County, and we fly down their hand up from them. State of Alabama has a fleet of helicopters there in Montgomery. And if we need a helicopter, we make a phone call and within 30 minutes you’ll have a helicopter here. It’s trained, it’s manned, it’s quick, it’s free. That was just one of the things to look at where we can save money, where we can put the money more wisely, where I can put money into training and education for deputies, where I can put money for new equipment,” Nelson says.
In addition to this, both candidates discussed their plans for splitting up deputy’s shifts and their coverage plans for the county.
“Get these guys back out in the county, we don’t have enough out here. We actually run two man shifts… We used to have the county divided into sectors back when I was a patrolman over here with Highway Patrol. And if we can get back to the sector technique to where these guys are working their sectors and staying in their sectors, learning the people in these areas, and going to the community meetings… The sheriff needs to be there, or the representative of the sheriff needs to be there because he’s their police department in those areas. If you can get these deputies to go to these meetings, then they’re meeting the deputy that patrol their area, not just the sheriff, but the deputies that patrol that area. Have these guys out there to where they know them, and they see them, and they trust them,” Nelson says.
“I was the deputy that patrolled this county at night, with real low pay, and I can remember a lot of the times, that we’ve had just two deputies a night and it’s a pretty good size county and I worked nightshift many years and I remember being by myself in a lot of situations and we’ve always depended on other departments to back us up and you know, as a matter of fact Jeff Nelson has backed us up before, and I really appreciate him for that. I would like to make sure we at least get three deputies on the road at night to keep those deputies safe and keep this county safe,” Blackstone says.
Both candidates tell News 3 they waited for Sheriff Lockhart to retire before throwing their hat in the ring, and their love for the Chambers County community inspired their run for office.
“Most everybody here, knows everybody here. There is a lot of good people here in Chambers County, when you go to town you’re gong to run into 10 or 12 people that you know. Everybody, it is just a friendly county, it’s a good county to live in, it’s a good place to raise the children… Everybody respects everybody, I just love living in Chambers County and I love working in Chambers County, and I respect this county,” Blackstone says.
“There’s just so much that we can do in this county that we just got to step up and do it. We have good people here. This is probably one of the best counties that I’ve worked because I worked all over this state. The people in this county support their law enforcement, they take care of their law enforcement. I’ve been out patrolling, sitting on the side of road running radar early in the mornings and have somebody knock on my window and bring me breakfast. That’s the kind of people you have in this county. They take care of you and we need to return that. When you start taking care of the people of this county, get out the county and start working it and that’s just one of the things that I want to do is get these guys trained because the sheriff’s only as good as his deputies,” Nelson says.
General elections will be on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.