Sanders, a Richmond County native and graduate of Butler High School, was employed as a firefighter for about three years before getting a job as a sheriff’s dispatcher in 1969. He then worked briefly as an Augusta city police officer before returning to the sheriff’s department, where he moved up through the ranks, working in road patrol, vice and narcotics and violent crimes. He served as chief deputy under Sheriff J.B. Dyches.
During that period Sanders attended college and the Augusta Law School at night. He was admitted to the Georgia State Bar in 1981.
In 1983, he was named chief of the newly created Richmond County Police Department.
“The sheriff at that time had gone to jail, J.B. Dyches, and the commission created a police department on its own under home rule,” Sanders said.
In 1985, the county police department was dissolved, and Sanders took a job as a lawyer with Nixon, Yow, Waller and Capers. When the firm split in 1993, he became a member of Capers, Dunbar, Sanders, Bruckner and Bellotti, where he works today.
He has served as a prosecutor for the city of Augusta in Recorders Court and as a special assistant attorney general for the state of Georgia. He is also a certified polygraph examiner and a graduate of the Drug Enforcement Administration Academy.
Returning to law enforcement
Sanders said law enforcement is in his blood and he has always wanted to be part of it. He sees an opportunity to do that now that Strength is retiring, but it also is an opportunity to make some changes that he says are needed within the department.
For example, Sanders said the amount of training deputies receive before being sent out on patrol is insufficient.
“I think the pendulum needs to go back a little bit and we need to go back to some of the old ways,” he said. “I rode with a deputy for five years before I was issued a car, and I was never passed over. By the time I got a car I pretty much knew what to do.
“Now with the new ways, you go to school for about 10 weeks, you ride with a field training officer for a couple of months and they turn you loose with a car.”
Sanders said he wants to pair more experienced officers with younger deputies in “two-men” cars, especially in high crime areas. He also wants to change attitudes on the force.
He said sending deputies out with 60 rounds of ammunition is giving them the wrong message about their duty as police officers.
“I’m telling you these young men, as bad as they want to be in law enforcement and as good as they are, they need to go back and understand that they are peace officers,” Sanders said. “They don’t need to go out there thinking with a mind set they are going to get in some armed confrontation and that they are going to need 60 rounds of ammunition.”
Sanders said as sheriff there is little he can do to correct the problems that plague society. A sheriff’s responsibility is to enforce the law. He will work with residents to make a safer community, but without the help of parents it won’t be possible.
“I think the parents need to raise their children. I think the schools need to be supported. Instead of me trying to give the feeling that as the sheriff I’m going to go out and cure all these ills, that is not true.
“If you don’t go back to the basics and let the family raise the child it is not going to work.”
At the same time, Sanders said, law enforcement doesn’t need to be involved in many of the “minor infractions” with youth that deputies are often called to address.
“I hate to see a child got to school and they find a pocketknife in their pocket and they arrest them for a crime,” he said. “This is the new way to me. This is not to me effective law enforcement. If two kids get into a scuffle in school, you don’t need to call in law enforcement and lock them up.”
Sanders said there are many misconceptions about the term “community policing.” He said other candidates are talking about their concepts of community policing, but none of those fall within the parameters set by the U.S. Justice Department.
“The Justice Department defines what community policing is,” he said. “There is no ‘my concept;’ there is one concept. There is what the Justice Department says is effective.”
Sanders said that standard involves creating small independent police departments in neighborhoods, such as the former “Weed and Seed” unit that was assigned to Barton Village several years ago but dissolved after the federal grant money ran out.
“You would have little police departments all over this county,” he said. “They have autonomy. They answer the call from beginning to end. They try to take care of everything without calling investigators. Instead of having a big sheriff’s department with 800 men, you now have under that concept little departments in every neighborhood.”
Sanders said it is a great concept and a very effective one, but it also would be too expensive and likely triple the number of deputies currently in uniform. Instead, Sanders said he wants to promote more active neighborhood watch programs and work with local groups to improve public safety and community relations.
Sanders said he is sensitive to race relations and the problems of prejudice because he grew up in the era of segregation and has firsthand knowledge of what it was like.
“I hate racism. It is the most sickening thing I have ever seen,” he said. “But the difference between me and most candidates is I have seen it to the extreme. I understand how the minorities feel because I have seen it and I understand it. Nobody on my department is going to make any case against anybody because of them being a minority. I will fire them right where they are.
“It is nothing that I need to be patted on the back about. It’s just not in me. I will not put up with that. I will not condone that.”
Running as a Republican
Sanders said he is running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic county because that is who he is. He is a conservative, but he said law enforcement is nonpartisan.
He added that he can’t control whether people will vote against him because of his political party.
“I’m not going to believe that a Republican doesn’t have a chance,” he said. “I cannot say that I am a Democrat any more than I can say that if you break the law I’m not going to arrest you. I have enough faith in people, enough confidence that they know that I am a conservative and what I am going to do.
“I might be an idealist, but I still believe that people will look at me and say he is a viable candidate, and although he carries the stench of being a Republican, we might turn our heads and look at him.”