James Sanders fell in love with Cochran soon after he came to town in 1984.
Now the 42-year law enforcement veteran is the new chief of the Cochran Police Department.
Cochran Mayor Cliff Avant said Sanders was chosen Tuesday night from three finalists out of a field of two dozen candidates.
The Georgia Chiefs of Police Association conducted a three-and-a-half-month search following the resignation of Chief Jon Thrower in late November during an ongoing federal and state investigation.
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Sanders’ experience in law enforcement and nearly 25 years working in Cochran and Bleckley County made him the logical choice, Avant said.
“He’s been an outstanding employee,” Avant said. “He has page after page of training over the course of his career.”
Sanders, a 60-year-old former captain in the department who is originally from Memphis, Tenn., said he worked about 22 years at the Cochran Police Department after first working at the Bleckley County Sheriff’s Office for a couple of years. He bought a house after just three weeks in town, he said.
“It reminds me of what the South is all about — the hospitality, the warmness of the people,” Sanders said. “Cochran is all of it rolled into one.”
Sanders and Avant, who took office in January, are anxious to move the department forward in the wake of charges of officer misconduct filed in an investigation that began last summer.
In August, the GBI and FBI began probing allegations that stemmed from a 2008 investigation of two former Cochran police officers who were working as part-time officers in Pineview, about 30 miles southwest of the Bleckley County seat.
The officers were charged with enticing a child and interfering with custody.
One of the officers was subsequently convicted of violation of oath of office and sentenced to five years on probation, a GBI investigator said. The case is ongoing, although investigators have not given the new mayor any details, Avant said.
In late August, a Cochran officer resigned and was charged with conspiracy to sell a controlled substance and violation of his oath of office.
That same month, the GBI secured a search warrant and seized personnel records from Cochran City Hall.
“I’m happy to be in the position and to move forward,” Sanders said.
Thrower’s top assistant, Key McGuire, has been acting chief, but he did not seek the position permanently, the mayor said.
Putting the past behind the department will be Sanders’ top priority, the mayor said.
“Basically, restoring the reputation of our police department and making the changes necessary,” Avant said.
“We can’t sit back and wait (for the investigation to conclude). We have to move forward.”
Sanders has lived all over the world and first came to Middle Georgia in 1980 as an Air Force security police officer at Robins Air Force Base.
“I just love the small community, being from a big city where you don’t even know your neighbors,” Sanders said of Cochran. “This place just takes you over.”
Information from The Telegraph archives was included in this story.