Faces of CAP: When nature and nurture align

Share this post

Childhood photo of CAP employee Steve West

Editor’s note: CAP employees have unique backgrounds and experiences, shaping us as an organization and reflecting the diverse communities we serve. May 18 is Armed Forces Day, an opportunity to recognize the men and women who serve in the United States’ armed forces.

Steve West joined CAP in December 2023 as an agent, bringing four years of service in the Air Force and more than 25 years of law enforcement experience.

It’s an age-old debate. Which is stronger: nature or nurture? For Steve West, it is a moot point. Not only did he always know he wanted to be a police officer, but he was raised by parents who taught him to always do the right thing. His career choice seemed like an obvious one. But life isn’t always a straight line.

West, a Tucson native, grew up the youngest of four. His parents were tired of shoveling snow in Pennsylvania and, after a trip to Arizona, fell in love with the desert and made the move west. His upbringing was pretty traditional for the time; dad worked in the mines and mom worked in the home, providing a stable and loving family … and a strong sense of right and wrong.

“If someone was broken down on the side of the road or had a flat tire, we always pulled over to help,” said West. “I give all the credit to my dad because there was never any question about doing the right thing. I continued to do that and even as a teenager. I would always stop.”

After high school, West got a scholarship to play baseball at Pima Community College and he embraced the experience. But his parents were “old school,” requiring a 10 o’clock curfew, even after late games. He knew – and respected — the “when in this house” expectation so he knew it was time for his next step. But he was 19, which was too young to become a police officer, so he chose to join the military. He married his high school sweetheart and headed to basic training and tech school in San Antonio, Texas.

“I chose the Air Force because my father-in-law served,” said West. “Because I knew I wanted to be a cop, I applied for security police school, and was accepted.”

He flourished at basic training, realizing that his parents had been preparing him his entire life for challenging situations.

“I was disciplined at home, so going into the military wasn’t hard because my parents were tough,” said West. “I never had an issue with authority or doing what was right because I had that at home.”

Steve West official military photoAfter basic training and tech training, West was fortunate enough to be assigned to his preferred base: Castle Air Force Base in California. He was excited to finally be in law enforcement, but quickly learned it wasn’t what he expected.

“When I went in, I thought I’d be driving around base in a police car doing what cops do in the real world,” said West. “Little did I know that when you are security police in the Air Force, you’re protecting things like B52s and nuclear weapons, so I ended up being a 60 gunner on a peacekeeper.”

It wasn’t what he expected, but true to his character, West embraced it and he excelled. After working as a gunner, he became a weapons armorer, where he issued weapons to airman at the start of each day and checked them back in at the end of the day.

“The Air Force doesn’t like their people to take weapons home, even personal weapons, so we issued them each day,” said West. “It could be 3 a.m. on a Saturday and an airman would stop by to get his 30-06 to go deer hunting. It was an experience that prepared me for my future.”

He spent his career at Castle Air Force Base and after four years, he decided it was again, time to move on so he and his wife returned to Tucson. He tested for the Tucson Police Department and started the process to become a police officer. However, halfway through the process, budget issues forced the cancellation of his class. His dream to be a police officer had come to an abrupt halt.

But he needed a job and found himself in the water purification business with a family friend. For 10 years, he worked hard. He welcomed two sons to his family and instilled the same values his father instilled in him. As his 30s loomed, he realized if he wanted to be a police officer, it was now or never.

“My Dad always told me that if you hate your job, you only have yourself to blame,” said West. “I knew that I didn’t want to be in my late 50s and not have a career that I loved.”

Steve West with other Pima County Sheriff personnel in front of sheriff's helicopter

So, he tested for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and started as a deputy in March 1999.

For the next 25 years, Deputy West did it all – patrol, traffic, search and rescue, incident management, firearms and more. He became trained and certified in many things, including emergency medical training, swift water rescue, rope rescue, structure collapse, confined space, UTV/ATV and body recovery.

And he wasn’t an average deputy. He frequently received public recognition for his work, including rescuing a dog and plucking a boy from raging floodwaters for which he earned a national award.

He loved his job and looked forward to it every day. He knew from a young age he wanted to be a cop and he was right … it was the perfect job for him.

He was nearing retirement when a position for a CAP agent in the Tucson area became available. West knew it was a rare opportunity, and he didn’t hesitate.

“I love being a cop and working at CAP is a great experience,” he said. “The pace is a little slower and our world is primarily between our fences, which is regulated and secure, much like my time in the Air Force.”

Steve West CAP employee

The pace at CAP may seem slower to West, but his belief to always do the right thing is as strong as ever.

“I had someone cutting the fence, so I put up cameras and played a little game of cat and mouse until I caught him,” said West with an impish grin.

As West looks back on his life, he is proud. He’s been married 39 years, has two sons and a grandson. He served his country and continues to serve his community. Nature or nurture? For West, it doesn’t matter.

“I am who I am today because I had parents who cared,” said West.

Workforce Icon

KRA: Workforce

Being a premier employer that attracts and retains an exceptional and diverse workforce

Learn more about CAP’s eight Key Result Areas (KRAs)