DES MOINES, Iowa -- Law enforcement officials across the county are remembering a Des Moines police captain who broke barriers. Retired Captain Richard Sanders passed away last week at the age of 83. He served on the force for 31 years, the last two of those years he spent as the department's first African - American police captain.
" I think he broke a lot of barriers and made room for the other black officers who were coming up through the ranks," says Lieutenant Tony Knox.
In the midst of the Civil Rights Era, Captain Sanders fearlessly joined the force and stuck with it for the next three decades. Knox was a rookie officer when he first worked with the captain.
"He was very well-respected. I know he was within the department but also out in the community. He was involved in several organizations and he was definitely a pillar."
The pillar in the community was also seen by Polk County Sheriff Sergeant Keith Onley.
"In the Des Moines area and in my neighborhood you didn`t see many African-Americans in law enforcement. He was one of those people we could look up too," he says. As a result, Onley is now on a mission to encourage other people of color to join too.
"It is a big deal and we are striving to make those changes and we`re doing and were doing it proudly."
The only other African - American to earn the rank of captain within the department is retired Captain Tony Steverson. In 2015, Lillie Sams made history for being the first black woman to become a lieutenant for the department.