Garland County sheriff is proud to serve

By Wayne Bryan Published March 16, 2014 at 2:05 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Larry Sanders is the sheriff of Garland County and has held the position for about a decade. After turning 54 earlier this month, Sanders reasoned that other priorities meant it was time for him to leave the office. So, he will not seek re-election and will turn over his duties on Jan. 1, 2015.

On Jan. 1, 2015, Larry Sanders of Hot Springs will turn over his duties as Garland County sheriff to someone new. Sanders will have held the job for 10 years.

While the sheriff has worked 30 years in the office he now leads, he turned 54 earlier this month. He feels he could have continued his career, but now he has other priorities.

“There is illness in my family, and there is no way I could continue the campaign process,” Sanders said. “Campaigning is a full-time job in itself, and it’s mostly nights and weekends.”

While the job of being a sheriff has been an elected position throughout American history and beyond, he said the modern professional requirements of the job make it seem odd sometimes that the post is a political one.

“I am everybody’s sheriff, not just the sheriff of one party,” Sanders said. “When a call comes in, we never ask how the person voted; we just want to know what they need.”

When Sanders first announced in October that he would not be running again, the sheriff said he was grateful to the voters who re-elected him five times.

“I have dedicated my entire career to the Garland County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “I have been blessed to spend over 30 years doing the work I love, in service to the people of my home county.”

Being proud to serve the community is Sanders’ motto, he said. When he was elected sheriff, he used one of the perks of his new position and had “Proud to Serve” painted on the back bumper of each patrol car.

Asked about his accomplishments during his decade as sheriff, Sanders mentioned five things:

“We were the first agency in Arkansas to map sex offenders to a specific address,” he said. “It was not to punish them further, but to make sure the public knew.”

Sanders said he was proud of the system of senior care and safety-check calls run by his department. Automatic phone calls are made daily to homebound senior citizens or to residents who have chronic illnesses. If the call is not answered, a neighbor is called, or deputies are dispatched to visit the house and check on the resident.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” he said. “One woman broke a hip, and we discovered her after there was no answer to the call. She had no family, so we were the only ones checking.”

During the time Sanders was president of the Arkansas Sheriffs Association in 2012-2013, he led a campaign to charge booking fees for anyone jailed with a Class A offense. Approved by the Legislature, the $20 fee has allowed sheriffs all over the state to hire more staff.

“No one ever had enough money,” Sanders said. “This helped.”

Sanders is also proud of Project Lifesaver. The program provides bracelets with tracking devices that can be worn by small children or seniors or anyone with diminished mental faculties. If anyone is missing, parents or caretakers can ask that the device be activated.

“I remember finding a 5-year-old child with a disability in 2006,” Sanders said. “We found him in the woods, within 30 minutes after it was reported.”

The largest and perhaps the longest-lasting accomplishment of Sanders’ time as sheriff is the county’s new jail. For more than three years, the process of approving funding, planning and constructing the new detention facility was one of the county’s major projects.

The new jail is set to take in its first inmates by November, just weeks before Sanders leaves office at the end of December.

“We hope to have some staff inside the facility by late August,” the sheriff said. “There will still be things to do, like computer systems to install and to put in the door locks.”

The new facility is one of the reasons Sanders is not getting involved in the election of his successor, even though he was endorsed by Sheriff Larry Selig when he retired. Actually, Sanders received the support of two former sheriffs as well.

“I am not going to endorse anybody for sheriff. I want to help the new sheriff get the new jail up and running,” Sanders said. “It is going to take a new style of supervision, and I don’t want my support of any one candidate to hinder my relationship with whoever the people select for the job.

“Besides, most of the candidates are friends of mine, and so it’s better to remain neutral because friendships are more important than politics.”

Sanders was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but his parents were from the Hot Springs area, and the family returned to Garland County in 1971.

He said he never said as a youngster that he was interested in being in law enforcement, but after taking some career tests at high school, Sanders’ advisers suggested that he think about it and helped him become a cadet at the sheriff’s office in 1977.

After some time away from Hot Springs following graduation, Sanders volunteered for the sheriff’s auxiliary.

His first full-time assignment as a deputy with the sheriff’s office was as a detention officer at the jail; then he transferred to a dispatcher position.

He became a patrol officer in 1984 and spent two years in a squad car.

Joining criminal investigations, he was assigned as the department’s narcotics officer. In 1990, he was assigned to a multi-agency narcotics task force.

“I was from the sheriff’s office, and there was a city officer and a state trooper,” Sanders said. “It was a plain-clothes job.”

While working that assignment, he was deputized as a United States deputy marshal and was assigned to the Federal Organized Crime Drug Task Force three times.

In 1996, he was invited to attend the FBI Academy. Sanders calls it the highlight of his career.

“In 11 weeks, we learned about so many things; it was like going to college,” he said. “We learned about law enforcement management, handing budgets and media relations. We got to pick some classes, and I studied homicide investigations and law.”

Sanders said he shared his time at the FBI school with law enforcement officers from every state and 30 countries.

“I met officers from the Hong Kong Police,” he said, then laughed before adding, “An officer from Scotland Yard, who heard my Southern accent, said I was messing up the Queen’s English.”

Sanders was a captain in the office’s criminal investigations division when he was elected sheriff.

As for the future, Sanders said, he will focus on the health and well-being of his family.

“I have enough years in the agency to retire, but I don’t know what I will do yet,” Sanders said. “A few different things have come up, but I am thinking about family right now. I’ll just see what comes up.”

Nearing the end of his time in office, he said, he still believes in what he said when he first joined the Garland County Sheriff’s Office — he is “proud to serve.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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