The 50 Badges Project highlights police officers doing good things around the country
By Dan Campana
Among the nominees for the world’s most undisputed facts, police modesty might be the runaway winner.
Police officers by-and-large do their jobs out of passion for service, a commitment to the community and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the safety and security of others. They don’t do it for headlines or attention.
Sgt. Joshua Sanders of the Wheeling Police Department in West Virginia embodies all of those traits, right down to the disbelief that people are interested in his work and accomplishments in law enforcement and beyond it.
“I remained shocked and humbled that a small-town West Virginia police officer who is ‘just doing his job’ continues to get the spotlight,” Sanders said.
When you learn about Sanders career it becomes easy to see why people are drawn to his story. Like many, he wanted to be a police officer since he was a kid. He took classes in high school and college to learn about the profession and tested for the department almost immediately after graduating from Wheeling Jesuit University with a criminal justice degree in 2005.
He also picked up a little inspiration from a unique source.
“I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that John McClane and Die Hard had something to do with it as well – ‘Yippee ki-yay!’” Sanders shared. “Thanks dad for letting me watch that when I was eight years old.”
After graduating the West Virginia State Police Academy in 2006, Sanders’ career filled up with a variety of assignments and responsibilities that provided diverse experiences on his path to becoming a sergeant.
He’s gravitated toward community policing through time as a neighborhood watch liaison and working on the bicycle patrol. Sanders has led the citizen’s police academy and is part of Wheeling’s newly developed Neighborhood Assistant Volunteer program. And, he’s also known as “Officer Josh” at safety town.
That’s not all, of course. Sanders spent four years on the road with the motorcycle unit, joined SWAT, served as a field training officer and, more recently, became a member of the department’s honor guard.
“There are many hats … the chief decided I should wear all the time,” Sanders said.
He does it all with undeniable purpose. Several purposes, actually. Sanders focuses on “becoming a good leader and training his replacement,” while also trying to help the residents he meets understand what it really means to wear the badge in today’s world.
“It is very easy to become hateful or depressed in this job. We are always dealing with the negative – whether it’s the calls we go on, the media portrayal or the decisions that sometimes seem to be made for us,” Sanders explained. “We are working for the public and I am going to treat every call like I can help someone. That’s why most of us signed up.”
It’s a mission he shares not only with fellow officers, but also the public.
“After 12 weeks in the citizen’s police academy, the people taking the class come to have a new respect for the profession and what it is we do,” he said. “They get to know that we have great pride when we get to help someone – from an argument with a neighbor to a DUI arrest and even possibly a murder.
“We tend to pour our heart and soul into what we do,” Sanders added.
Last month, Sanders became the first police officer in the state to be recognized as a Generation Next “40 Under 40” award recipient. In its 13th year, the program presented by The State Journal highlights up-and-coming community leaders in West Virginia.
“I remain extremely proud to have been selected for that recognition, not only because there are so many qualified men and women in the state in this profession, but also as a member of the Wheeling Police Department and the very qualified officers I work with,” he said while praising the leaders and mentors in his life. “I must give credit where it’s due. I have been fortunate during my career to have some great leaders that helped pave the way.”
Sanders is also mindful of the realities of the profession, which is why he’s pedaled hundreds of miles in the Tour de Force memorial bike ride over the last several years. The event, started in 2002, has a dual mission of honoring the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and raising money for the families of officers killed in the line of duty.
“This ride is like nothing else,” Sanders said. “The feeling you get when you meet people affected by tragedy, whether on 9/11 or an officer’s family, it helps you regain your focus on our mission to protect and serve.”
He vowed to continue to be part of the ride every year in hopes he can – just as he does when he dons his uniform – make a difference for someone in need. Despite his continual drive to be that helping hand to others, Sanders’ modesty rises up again when he mentions how people will often thank him for his service or call him a hero.
“My response to them is that the real heroes, military and law enforcement alike, are those who don’t come home,” Sanders said.
(Photo courtesy of Joshua Sanders)