The Sylacauga police chief is leaving his job Nov. 30 for the state Attorney General’s Office. He begins his new job as Law Enforcement Coordinator for the Attorney General’s Office Dec. 1.
Zook will continue to live in Sylacauga, traveling to Montgomery daily. “It’s 60 miles from my door to my office there,” he said.
Zook has over 31 years of law enforcement experience, including 17 years as police chief. He has worked in the Sylacauga Police Department for 27 years, and worked almost four years with the Talladega County Sheriff’s Department.
He started with the SPD in 1984 as a police officer, then served as a sergeant and investigation from 1989 to 1994.
He was named police chief in 1995.
Being police chief has given Zook the opportunity to work with people in the community to make it better place. He said he is proud to be part of a department that continues to grow as Sylacauga progresses and working with different organizations, companies, businesses and people in the community.
He has a proven commitment to community policing, improving services, and problem solving through the development of community partnerships.
Zook’s community involvement has been extensive throughout his years of service in Sylacauga.
He is currently the president of the Chamber of Commerce, is past president of United Way of Sylacauga, served on the Arts Council, Sylacauga Beautification Council, Rotary Club, American Heart Association, March of Dimes, Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement Bridges Program and Little League.
He is a member of Marble City Baptist Church and at one time was church deacon.
As police chief, Zook is most proud of being able to build a department that is filled with good, strong professional men and women dedicated to providing public safety to the community.
“We’ve accomplished a lot since I have been chief. There is no way I could have accomplished any of it without everyone’s help from officers and employees of this department, to other city departments, the City Council, mayor or community,” he said.
Zook said the department has improved and upgraded its equipment from vehicles to technology.
“This department showed the need to keep our vehicles and equipment up-to-date. The City Council supported the funding of those needs throughout the years plus the department secured outside funding,” the chief said.
Seventeen years ago when he became chief, Zook said the computer was just picking up steam for use. “We had two or three in the department. Today, we have a computer on everyone’s desk and in every patrol car.”
Also, the department has continuous on-going training making sure all employees have the opportunity to learn and continue to do good on the job, he said.
Zook said officers are certified to instruct in various topics. Policies and procedures manual is updated constantly.
“I think we’ve done so much and still been good stewards of taxpayers money. I and those in the department have made decisions always keeping this in mind. We’ve made sure not to be extravagant but we are also looking for grants and other funding for our department,” Zook explained.
In the 17 years Zook has been police chief the department has been awarded almost $3 million in grant funds. “That’s a lot for a small police department,” he said.
The department has 38 sworn officers and two support personnel.
He said the department is allowed 42 officers and three support personnel, but just like other cities, the slow economy has forced the SPD to reduce its workforce and reorganize programs, adjusting accordingly.
“Overall, the community has probably not recognized the reduction. That’s a testament to our officers out there,” Zook said.
The chief said the department will continue to progress with good leadership in place.
When it comes to crimes, Zook said the department continues to investigate the Blake Lazenby case. The Sylacauga attorney was murdered this past summer. That murder, he said, shocked the community.
One of the cases that sticks out in his years as chief is the murder of a mother and daughter some 10 years ago. Walikii Brown was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her mother and kidnapping his children, fleeing to Ohio. He blungeoned Cherae Jemison, 26, and Dolly Jemison, 48, to death.
“That stands out because of the violent nature of the crime,” he said.
When it comes to those influencing his career, Zook said, “So many of my peers played a role, helped me and I watched to learn from them. Wilby Wallace Jr. got me my first job, then at the Sheriff’s Department there is Sheriff Jerry Studdard, Deputy Billy Joe Pope and Frankie Wallis. Here at Sylacauga, there was Ken Solley, Alvin Kidd, Wayne Murchison and Robert Rumsey was a tremendous mentor. There are dozens if not hundreds of others primary law enforcement , yet so many others who affected me. I would not be successful if not for people like that.”
Zook said he wasn’t looking for another job when he was approached by a friend retiring as law enforcement coordinator in the AG’s office.
He suggested Zook apply for the job. At first, he didn’t, but later was ask to submit his resume.
“I’m happy here. I think I could continue to stay here. There was no push for me to leave,” he said.
Zook didn’t hear anything for several months after submitting his resume. Then he got a call, went for an interview and Attorney General Luther Strange called him later offering him the job.
“It’s a great honor. I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The hardest part was sharing the decision with my department, Mayor Sam Wright, council liaison Doug Murphree and the City Council,” he said.
Basically, Zook will be the liaison between the Attorney General’s Office and all state law enforcement.
Zook is a native of Birmingham. He graduated from Selma High School, attended Gadsden State Community College and the University of Virginia. He is a graduate of the Alabama Police Academy, the FBI National Academy, the Southeastern Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar, and has received over 3,000 hours of advanced law enforcement training and education.
He is recognized as a Certified Police Chief by the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, and a Certified Law Enforcement Executive by the Alabama Peace Officer’s Standards and Training Commission.
He is a member of the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs, serving in virtually every capacity including president.
He serves as an adjunct instructor for the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, the Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, the Alabama League of Municipalities, the Institute for Criminal Justice Education, and the Louisiana Law Enforcement Executive Management Institute.
Wright said if there ever was a team player, Zook was it.
“He offers full cooperation, he is always ahead of the information curve and tremendous with other people. He knows how to deal with issues and solve them. He does his job well. He has worked hard at getting grant funding for his department and has a plan when he comes to the City Council on how to pay for things. He has a solution,” Wright said.
The mayor said he knew one day someone would say they were leaving, but Zook’s decision to leave Sylacauga PD “hits you hard. I don’t know how we’ve kept him around. He’s the best. Maybe someday he can come back to Sylacauga.”
Interim Police Chief Chris Carden said Zook had been a close friend and mentor of his for nearly 25 years.
“I first met Louis when I was a teenage and my Dad was running the radio at the police department. My goal early on in my career was to be Chief Zook’s captain, it was a sad day when shared with me that he would be leaving to seek out a new opportunity,” Carden said.
Carden said many people probably do not realize the impact Zook has had on not only the local community but on the law enforcement community statewide.
“He has served on so many boards and committees that they are too numerous to mention. Most notably he has served on the Alabama Attorney General’s Advisory Committee under then Attorney General Troy King, and he served police officers and law enforcement agencies all across the state when he was the president of the Alabama Police Chiefs Association,” the interim chief said.
Carden said one of the goals police managers always strive to meet is to leave a legacy in their department.
“Some police chiefs struggle to be remembered, others are remembered for all the wrong reasons. Louis Zook will be remembered as one of the fairest, hardest working police chiefs this city has ever had. His name will be symbolic with other Sylacauga chiefs like Ashcraft and Higgins. He’s been a great boos and we are truly going to miss him,” Carden said.
The city of Sylacauga plans to honor Zook Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. at City Hall. The public is invited.
Contact Denise Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org.