Columbus Police Department officer Rhonda Sanders isn’t scared of anything. After all, dealing with criminals isn’t nearly as challenging as being a mother to three kids under the age of six. On top of patrol and raising three children, Sanders does work in Community Relations, where she organizes neighborhood watches and events like toy drives, the Policeman’s Ball and Night Out on Crime.
Sanders was raised in New Hope and graduated from East Mississippi Community College. She worked in corrections at the Juvenile Detention Facility for three years and then decided to try for the Police Academy.
After acing the written and physical tests at age 22, Sanders went to the North Mississippi Law Enforcement Academy in Tupelo. She was hired in 1996 as a patrolman at the CPD, making her the first female African American officer at the department.
Sanders has served almost 17 years on the force, and said that aside from her family, it is her life’s passion.
“I love doing patrol,” she said. “My preference was the night shift when I was single. It was wonderful. You have more time to work out and attend social events. Now that I have kids, day shift is better. Community Policing is also different. You have flex hours and different details and have a little more time to be at home with the family.”
Right now, she works a combo of patrol and community details, which has her working 14-15 hour days.
She prefers community policing, as she said she gets to know people more personally that way.
“On patrol I write tickets, answer every day calls,” she said. “On community detail, I can work one-on-one with people and deal with the individual problems they’re having. I’ve gotten to know a whole lot of people personally in the community. I can go into the elderly’s homes and look at their photo albums and learn their kids’ names. It’s a lot different and I really enjoy community policing because of that.”
Her big current project is the Columbus Community Glitz Ball. Formerly the Policeman’s Ball, an annual event which got skipped over for several years, Sanders and a group of volunteers revived the Ball, which serves as a fundraiser for Night Out on Crime and the CPD Christmas Toy Drive.
Sanders said for a while, CPD raised funds for Night Out on Crime by going door to door and asking for donations. Five years ago, they decided to bring the ball back. In addition to Sanders getting to play hostess, the Ball serves as a way to garner more funding for the department’s charitable organizations and gather members of the community with officers and supporters of the department.
This year the ball will feature the musical stylings of The Flame, from Starkville, Miss. They will have a silent auction with donations from local retailers and a money machine. To win a chance to enter the money machine, the CPD is asking party-goers to bring unwrapped, new toys to the ball for this year’s toy drive. Every toy will grant one ticket and chance to grab the cash. The semi-formal event costs $20 per person or $185 for a VIP table that seats eight. The event will be held at the Trotter Convention Center on Friday, July 20, from 7 p.m. to midnight.
Sanders and her committee have been planning this year’s ball since May. She said that despite the many hours of work, she’s very excited about the ball and expects it to be an excellent fundraiser event this year.
“The Ball is more than a fundraiser to me; it’s a social gathering where we can bring people together and network. On calls, I run into people who are homeless, victims of domestic violence, and a lot of people who need a little bit of help. When socializing, I meet people who rent houses, own local business. It’s a situation where I can connect people and potentially solve problems.”
When not on patrol or organizing events, Sanders has a rich home life. Her husband, Robert Sanders is principal of West Lowndes Elementary School and their children, Jay, who is five years old; Eli, who is four; and Brooklyn, who is two, constantly keep their parents on their toes.
Sanders said her daughter Brooklyn helps her shed her tough-woman police persona after a long day of work.
“She just melts me,” said Sanders. “She’s my princess and my heart.”
Her boys keep her running, and love that their mom catches bad guys. Because she works long hours, Robert gets to spend a lot more time with the kids.
“Daddy gets a lot of time,” she said. “I have such a good support system. My mom and dad help a lot and he is such a good husband. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the support of my family.”
The Sanders’s celebrated their 13th anniversary on Wednesday, July 11. “My family is my rock. Without the support of them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I’m a very blessed person.”
In addition to the Policeman’s Ball, Sanders is involved in Neighborhood Watch, Relay for Life, National Night Out on Crime, and Senior Citizen’s Thanksgiving Dinner, which feeds over 800 senior and disabled citizens. She most recently helped the Columbus Police Department Toy Drive reach an all-time high of providing 230 bikes to families that needed assistance this past Christmas. Whether Rhonda is on or off duty she says is always available to the citizens of Columbus and in the communities.0