Sheriff hires a familiar sidekick

Sheriff Donald Lowe (at left) in his office with Major Ronnie Roberts.

The new chief deputy at the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office is a familiar face. Ronnie Roberts, the former Town of Louisa police chief, assumed his new role on Jan. 2.  

Sheriff Donald Lowe said that Albemarle County’s loss is Louisa’s gain. Roberts lost his bid to be Albemarle’s sheriff in November.

“I think Louisa County lucked out in a big way,” Lowe said.

Roberts said that coming back to Louisa, where he is already familiar with many law enforcement staff, made for an easy transition and a good fit.

“It’s really helpful,” he said. “A lot of these people knew who I was, and I was already friendly with them from my four years in Louisa and some even before.”

The newly minted Major Roberts spent four years as the town’s police chief and has been in law enforcement for over 40 years in various roles. Much of his career was with the Charlottesville Police Department, where he managed the school resource officer program and served as department spokesman.

Roberts left Louisa in May 2019 to run for sheriff in Albemarle County. Albemarle has its own police department, so the sheriff’s role is primarily to provide court security, civil process and transportation.

Lowe said that he’d considered Roberts as a possible second-in-command early in his campaign. He chose Roberts because the two men have a good working relationship and knew that they shared many of the same principles when it comes to law enforcement.

“I think he’s got strengths in a lot of areas that I’m weak in, and he’s a very trusted individual around this department,” Lowe said. “So I’m very excited to have him coming on board. I like the idea that it’s someone I know, that I’ve worked with ... I didn’t want to bring someone in and be fighting with my chief deputy a year from now.”

The chief deputy is one of the most vital roles within a sheriff’s office, almost as important as the sheriff himself. In Louisa, Roberts will supervise all divisions, including court services, patrol, animal control and communications. He will take over for Lowe in his absence.

Lowe served as chief deputy under Sheriff Ashland Fortune for 20 years until the latter’s retirement in 2019.

Lowe and Roberts don’t see a need to make many changes in the department after taking on their new roles. Lowe said this is a testament to the way that the department has been run in recent years.

“We had a brief conversation this morning about something small, just a way that we could increase our efficiency,” Lowe said. “But by and large, we’ve always wanted to ensure that our deputies treat everyone with dignity and respect, and we don’t expect that to change.”

“When you first come into an agency, a lot of management is done by walking about, seeing how it works, see who the key people are, and open up the dialogue,” Roberts said. “It’s really about listening to ... the people on the bottom end of that and saying, ‘This is where we can make some improvements.”

The sheriff’s office has developed several community outreach programs in the past few years, including the Law Enforcement Adventure Program, a day camp in the summer for kids who want to learn more about law enforcement, and the Citizens Law Enforcement Academy, which is a class offered in the evenings for adults.

Both Lowe and Roberts stressed their continuing commitments to outreach in the community. Lowe said he’s thought about bringing back the Community Strong program, a collaboration with Louisa NAACP and several other community groups to talk with citizens about policing practices.