January 11, 2018 11:12:04 AM
Rhonda Sanders is out as the Columbus Police Department's community relations officer.
Sanders, who has served in the position for about the last five years, confirmed to The Dispatch she received notice "out of the blue" on Monday she had been reassigned to patrol duty. She did not comment further on the record.
As community relations officer, Sanders served as liaison between the citizens and CPD, working with neighborhood watch programs and organizing events and fundraisers -- including the annual Black and White Ball, a haunted house, a citywide toy drive and the local National Night Out on Crime. She worked directly with a benefit committee on many of these endeavors, raising about $15,000 for the toy drive each of the last three years. In 2017, the committee raised more than $50,000 through the toy drive and other fundraisers, including $22,000 for the family of part-time patrol officer Kenny Brewer whose daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer and had been in St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
"In my opinion, this will negatively impact our city, as no one at the CPD will be providing assistance for neighborhood watch groups or facilitating meetings that strengthen the relationship between the residents and the CPD," said Julie Parker, a member of the benefit committee. "I'm having a very difficult time appreciating this transfer in light of the current decrease in crime in the city. ... It seems to me that we are moving in a very positive direction under the leadership of Officer Sanders as the community relations officer.
"I am very disappointed in our leaders' decision to not recognize the progress that has been made and to position the city in a space that will inevitably make us move backward," she added.
Police Chief Fred Shelton, who was appointed to the post earlier this month, said in a lengthy email statement he is making changes at the police department so it will be "more efficient, effective and responsive" to the citizens.
His statement did not specifically address Sanders' reassignment or any of the other changes because he said they are personnel matters he would not discuss. He also did not say whether, or how, he would fill the community relations officer role.
Shelton's statement said CPD would not abandon, but rather expand community policing efforts by implementing them in every facet of the department.
"At this time I ask our community for trust and patience," Shelton said. "Trust me that we are working to make every part of the department better and more responsive to our citizens. We are here to provide a service, and our citizens are our customers. ... Allow me time to get these plans implemented in the various moving parts of our department before making a judgment on our results."
He said he met with CPD's officers throughout last week and the weekend, and he plans to release what he said to them on social media and through conventional media.
Parker, too, said she received an email from Shelton asking for her patience.
"Which I'm fine with," she told The Dispatch. "I just don't understand how he can take someone ... who's had such success and remove them from that role completely."
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, when contacted by The Dispatch, commended Sanders' work as community relations officer. He said he would like to know more about Shelton's reasoning behind the decision but acknowledged it was "the chief's call."
"As far as I'm concerned, Rhonda was doing a great job," Mickens said. "Her work was good for the community and good for the police department.
"Still, we have to keep in mind (Shelton) is the chief," he added. "I don't want to guide him from the side or from the back. I definitely don't want to lead him."
Charlie Box, who represents Ward 3 on the council, echoed Mickens' opinion but added he wasn't previously aware of the move.
"I really like Rhonda," Box said. "I think she's done a good job. ... But I think it's very important for (Shelton) to have the opportunity to (reorganize his department)."
Colin Krieger, a local Realtor who serves on the CPD Citizen Overview Committee, is also urging citizens not to criticize Shelton's decision too soon.
"I'm friends with Rhonda and Chief Shelton, and I think the world of them both," Krieger said. "Rhonda's efforts for this community have been tireless, and I don't see that stopping. ... I think he's got a plan for her and that department, and I think it may be time for all of us to let a police chief commit to his plan and see it through before we judge it too harshly."
2. Local man arrested for possessing child pornography COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Ailing mother searching for daughter who ran away with carnival COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Unresolved issues still in play for Oktibbeha industrial park STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY