SIKESTON -- A former Sikeston Department of Public Safety police officer will soon be the chief law enforcement officer for Missouri's fastest growing county.
Joey Kyle, 47, a 1980 graduate of Sikeston Senior High School, received 65 percent of the votes during the Nov. 4 general election in the race to be Christian County's next sheriff.
The incumbent, Sheriff Mike Robertson, had decided not to file for re-election after having served a single term in office.
Kyle first won the Republican primary in August against the incumbent's chief deputy.
While there was not a Democratic opponent in the general election, "I did have to run against an independent," Kyle said. "I beat him by almost 12,000 votes."
After attending Murray State University in Kentucky, Kyle began his career in law enforcement at the Scott County Sheriff's Department after attending Southeast Missouri Law Enforcement Academy in 1986.
Later that same year, he joined the Sikeston DPS where he worked for three years before making a major life change.
Kyle said he and his family went to Branson for a vacation in April 1988 when, on a whim, he decided to visit the Springfield Police Department.
An officer there "said they were fixing to hire and asked if I would be interested in applying," he said.
Kyle said he turned in an application even though he wasn't looking to change jobs.
"There were about 4,000 applicants for 31 positions at the time," he recalled. "It was a pretty drawn-out hiring process. It wasn't until February of the next year that I got hired and went to work there."
Kyle remained with the Springfield Police Department until September 2003.
"That was a couple months after I got back from my first tour in Iraq," he said. "After I got back from the war the sheriff in Christian County offered me the job of captain of the patrol division."
Christian County is located just south of Springfield and includes neighborhoods Kyle said are, more or less, "suburbs of Springfield." As of the last census in 2000, the county's population was 54,285.
The county has experienced tremendous growth since then and now has an estimated population of around 75,000. "They're projecting, if the rate of growth is sustained, it hitting around 130,000 by 2015," Kyle said.
The Christian County Sheriff's Department has roughly 75-80 personnel on the payroll, including the jail's staff.
"The biggest jump was not so much going from one agency to another but going from being a patrolman to being the head of an entire division," Kyle said. "It was challenging, it was rewarding -- I learned a great deal. It helped give me the insight into some of the things I would need to be doing as far as becoming a sheriff."
Kyle was happy being a patrol division captain but his time as a Christian County deputy sheriff came to an end 15 months later with an election.
"The sheriff I was working for didn't get re-elected," Kyle said. "The sheriff I'm now replacing didn't offer me a post."
Kyle found work as a police officer in Republic, a municipality just southwest of Springfield, but soon set his sights on becoming the county's next sheriff. "It was the next step in my career, I thought," he said.
His predecessor, Kyle said, was a retired trooper for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
"I really didn't care of the way the department was heading," he explained. "Their focus seemed to be more on enforcing traffic laws than all laws."
Kyle said in the first year of the current sheriff's term, vehicle stops increased from 500 per year to 9,000. But the county had, in Kyle's opinion, more serious issues to deal with than traffic.
He noted for example that Christian County led the nation in the number of methamphetamine lab busts in 2002 and 2003.
"In the past four years, the violent crime rate in Christian County has gone up 34 percent," he said. "It's steadily increased over the last four years."
Kyle said one of the first things he intends to do as the county's new sheriff is implement a rotating training schedule which will result in a minimum of 40 hours of training per year for his deputies.
"The state only requires 48 hours every three years," he said.
While Kyle grew up in southeast Missouri, his children were in preschool when they moved and don't have many memories of Sikeston to speak of.
"All three of them went to grade school through high school in Ozark so this has pretty much been their home," he said.
His father's eight brothers remain in southeast Missouri towns but his parents, Hoyt and Donna Kyle, joined his family out west last summer.
"I still have a fondness for Sikeston," Kyle said. "Of course, that was almost 30 years ago but it will always be home to a certain degree. I still have a lot of friends there."