By Crystal Burns
In 1976, Trenton Police Chief O.B. Campbell, took a chance on a 19-year-old kid from Dyer.
Forty-one years later, Campbell’s risky hire is retiring as only the third chief in department history.
Will Sanders announced his two weeks’ notice after Christmas. His last day in Trenton is Friday, and a reception is planned in his honor at the First Presbyterian Church fellowship hall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sanders is taking a part-time job at the federal courthouse in Jackson. He submitted his application in 2014 after he underwent an operation requiring four stints.
“I began thinking that maybe I needed to do something else,” Sanders said.
Last March, Sanders got a call for an interview. On December 26, he got the job. He said working security at the federal courthouse allows him to stay active in the profession he loves but also gives him free time.
“I would like to do some things that I want to do in life,” Sanders said.
He and his wife Darla both believe they are three to four years away from full retirement. They are building a home at the river they hope to enjoy for years to come, and they have two young grandsons that Sanders is especially looking forward to spending more time with.
Sanders grew up in Illinois. His family moved to Dyer when he was a freshman in high school. After graduation, he worked about a year with his dad but was constantly applying for jobs in local law enforcement.
“I always had a dream of being a police officer,” Sanders said.
Campbell hired Sanders despite his age.
“He kind of took a big risk of hiring me at 19 years old,” Sanders reflected. “I wasn’t old enough to buy a firearm when I came to work here. It was pretty much under his guidance and leadership that I was able to work through the ranks.”
Sanders graduated from Basic Police Recruit School at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in 1977. In ’78, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. The next year, Sanders was appointed to the position of investigator, and in 1987, he was promoted to assistant chief. In October of 1988, Sanders was promoted to chief, serving 19 years for five different mayors.
In 1985, Sanders became the first Trenton officer to attend the prestigious FBI National Academy. He graduated and quickly began working with the alumni association. In 2012, he was elected president of the Tennessee chapter of the FBI National Academy, serving a two-year term as vice president and finally his presidency in 2015. He is a member of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and received the group’s Chief of Police of the Year Award for the Western District Division in 2012.
Sanders was named the Gibson County Fraternal Order of Police Officer of the Year in 1983. In 1985, he received the Outstanding Achievement in Justice Services Award from Dyersburg State Community College.
In his four decades in law enforcement, Sanders has seen innumerable changes, but he says the biggest challenge he has faced came in the last five years.
“When I came to work here, everybody respected law enforcement,” he said. “That’s not the case today. There is very little respect today. Nobody wants to be a law enforcement officer. It’s harder and harder to fill positions.”
Sanders said pleasing the mayor and city council, employees, and citizens is also difficult, but he said he and his department have been fortunate to have good relationships with most everyone. He gives credit to a team approach – he works closely with Assistant Chief Jeff McCoy and Investigator Jimmy Wilson – at hiring new officers, and the lack of inner turmoil in the department.
Mayor Ricky Jackson, who was an alderman when Sanders was promoted to chief, agreed with Sanders’ assertion.
“There’s been no in-house turmoil in the last 20 years,” Jackson said. “Trenton has been good for him, and he’s been good for Trenton.”
Sanders said gathering his officers after Christmas to tell them he would be leaving was one of the hardest things he had to do. In a letter to the mayor and council, he wrote of his pride in the department and thanked his coworkers for their countless number of sacrifices, trust, dedication, and friendship.
He also gave thanks to the citizens for their continued involvement, trust, and support in the Trenton Police Department and said citizens play a major role in the overall success of a department.
“I’ll miss the employees first,” he said. “At some point, something will happen, and I’ll be wishing I was there helping them respond, but I really haven’t had time to sit down and face reality.”
Jackson said McCoy would serve as interim chief until Sanders’ successor is named. He hopes to have the new chief in place in six weeks. Based on his past experience on the council, Jackson expects the board to be involved in the interview process.
“We will replace Chief Sanders, but we will not replace 41 years of experience,” he said.