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Sanders on the job in Humboldt

New Humboldt police chief begins duties, comes from Urbana, Illinois

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Humboldt Police Chief Joel Sanders took the reins at the Humboldt Police Department on Monday. Prior to coming to Iowa, he served on the Urbana Police Department in Urbana, Illinois, for 22 years.

HUMBOLDT — For the first time in more than a decade, the Humboldt Police Department is led by a chief of police.

On Monday, the newly-appointed Police Chief Joel Sanders started leading the department’s seven police officers.

Sanders has been a police officer for 30 years, spending the past 22 years with the Urbana Police Department in Urbana, Illinois. He had been a lieutenant for the department for the past six years.

It was when he decided he wanted to advance his career that he began to look for positions elsewhere as the chief and deputy chief in Urbana are likely to be around for a while, he said.

“My wife and I started to look at what do we want?” he said. “I didn’t want to grab just any chief’s job. I was looking for something that would challenge me, something that would test my ability, something that would give me the ability to build something.”

He wasn’t concerned about the size of the department he landed in, but the potential of the department.

“I didn’t want to walk into something that wasn’t manageable, but I didn’t want a retirement job, where I just sit and do nothing,” he added.

Humboldt was that perfect fit. Sanders grew up in a small town and his first policing job was in a small town, and he felt Humboldt would be just right.

“Looking at Humboldt, it fit every checkbox I had for moving forward,” he said. “It was a comfortable fit, both personally and professionally.”

Sanders is focused on building strong community relationships and feels Humboldt is the perfect size to accomplish that well.

“I came in with a 90-day plan,” he said. “Part of that is in the first 30 days is to get set up listening.”

Sanders truly wants to hear from the Humboldt community, he said.

“I want the community to tell me how they want to be policed, what they need,” he said. “I don’t want to come in and assume I know what this community wants. I need to work with the community to build the department they want, not the department Joel Sanders wants.”

To better foster these relationships, Sanders sees himself as a community partner first, chief of police second.

Sanders will receive an annual salary of $75,000, with regular city benefits, as well as a $2,500 relocation expense payment.

For the past 12 years, the duties of police chief were contracted out to the Humboldt County sheriff, an arrangement originally prompted by a situation where the mayor at the time didn’t reappoint a police chief at a time when the city administrator position was also vacant. What was meant to be a temporary Band-Aid continued for over a decade.

The city council decided in October 2020 to terminate its agreement with the county on Dec. 31, 2020, and to hire a full-time police chief for the Humboldt Police Department.

Sanders is a family man, he said. He and his wife, Loren, have a blended family, with six adult children between them. They currently have three grandchildren with one on the way.

“Family is probably my biggest thing,” he said.

The couple have a 1-year-old German Shepherd puppy named Roxy who they look forward to taking on walks and exploring the area with.

Both Sanders and his wife have been endurance athletes, competing in marathons, a pastime Sanders hopes to get back into soon.

But most of all, Sanders and his wife are looking forward to getting to know the people of Humboldt well.

“We’re very social animals, so we will just be out,” Sanders said. “We do a lot of walking and spend a lot of time at local restaurants and establishments. I love being around people and talking to people. People are kind of my hobby.”

Sanders will be in Humboldt for the next 30 days, and then he’ll go back to Urbana for a short time to finish up a large initiative he’s been working on for some time.

“In my role in law enforcement, I’m huge into mental health,” he explained. “So we’re working on an emergency room for mental health. We’ve been working on it for many years now and I’d like to see it up and running before I leave.”

He will return to Humboldt permanently in early March.

Sanders said with his passion for mental health services, he hopes to bring something like a mental health emergency room to Humboldt in the future.

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