By Josh Troy
She’s back. Former Police Chief Sandra Williams Johnson has returned to the community as a consultant for the City of Clarksdale on July 3. She is working for Mayor Chuck Espy and the city in an effort to improve police services through training, policies, and accountability.
“It’s imperative that officers are receiving the training they need to perform at the highest level,” Johnson said.
Johnson has already been consulting with Police Chief Robbie Linley.
“She has come back to Clarksdale to help me with some of the tasks that will free me up to perform more of my duties as chief of police,” said Linley at the Board of Mayor and Commissioners vetting meeting on Thursday. “I welcome her return.”
Johnson has 32 years of law enforcement experience and was the Clarksdale Police Chief from 2017 to 2021.
Before coming to Clarksdale, Johnson spent 26 years working in her hometown of Vicksburg. She worked for the Vicksburg Police Department from 1991 to 2017, rising through the ranks and becoming a captain. She spent nearly 18 of those years in the Vicksburg Police Department’s juvenile and criminal investigation divisions. She was the head of the criminal investigation division for four years.
Johnson expressed gratitude toward Espy for appointing her as police chief in 2017 and giving her the opportunity to serve as a consultant.
“I resigned from the Vicksburg Police Department because of Mayor Chuck Espy,” Johnson said. “He and the board were confident that I could get the job as police chief done based on my years of experience and knowledge of law enforcement. I applied to be chief of police and, fortunately, I was selected by Mayor Chuck Espy and the board. Clarksdale is where I got my first opportunity to be chief of police.”
Espy welcomed Johnson back during the city’s vetting meeting on Thursday.
“Former chief, it’s good to have you back to assist the chief in his duties and everything that’s happening,” Espy said.
Espy mentioned that Johnson and former City Clerk Cathy Clark are both working for the city as consultants.
“I’m just so happy to be able to have the resources and the ability to network from the executive side to the chief’s side to the new clerk’s side, and to continue working well together,” Espy said. “I’m very proud of that. To this board, I’m very thankful for allowing us to do it. It strengthens the team.”
After retiring from the Clarksdale Police Department in 2021, Johnson moved to the Atlanta, GA, area to serve as a major in the Forest Park Police Department. She was later promoted to deputy chief and remained in that position until she resigned in May. She said she missed her home and smaller communities.
“Living in the Atlanta area is definitely not the place for someone who is from the country and from a small town,” Johnson said. “Fortunately, in smaller communities, we don’t have the heavy traffic and busyness that larger cities have. So, I was very happy to get back to a small town and have the opportunity to work for a city I grew to love.”
Johnson believes many departments would benefit from focusing on community policing, the use of force, and how to deal with the mentally ill. She looks forward to assisting the Clarksdale Police Department in becoming stronger and more effective in those areas in her new position.
“It’s crucial that officers receive the necessary training to ensure they provide the best services,” she said. “It’s essential for officers to be safe in the jobs they are sworn to do.”
As a consultant for the city, Johnson said she will be able to see things she wouldn’t have been able to see while working for the police department.
“You tend to gain a broader perspective when you’re looking from the outside in rather than being consumed by your day-to-day operations,” she said. “So, I definitely think police and sheriff departments would benefit from having someone to consult with.”
Reflecting on her 32 years in law enforcement, Johnson said she has enjoyed being a public servant.
“I’ve always been a public servant,” she said. “Now, after 32 years in law enforcement, you have to love it. I enjoyed serving the people in Clarksdale and providing the best police services.”
Johnson graduated from Warren Central High School in the Vicksburg area in 1979. She worked as an educator with the Vicksburg-Warren School District before becoming a police officer.
“No one in my family is a police officer,” she said. “I knew absolutely nothing about law enforcement. I worked in the school system. I just felt like I wanted to try something different.”
Johnson is looking forward to the newest chapter of her career.
“I’m elated to have this opportunity to come back to the City of Clarksdale,” she said. “The City of Clarksdale is a great place to be, a great place to work, and I’m very happy to be back.”