Retired Campbell County Deputy John Sayers posed for a photo at the Campbell County Courthouse where he served as a court security officer. Sayers worked nearly 62 years as a sworn officer, including his final 10 as a court security officer. (Photo submitted)
Retired Campbell County Deputy John Sayers didn’t get into law enforcement to set a record. His goals were modest.
“I enjoy people, and I enjoy life, and I wanted to keep helping people,” the 86-year-old Sayers said.
Sayers retired on June 30, 2019, after 61 years, 11 months and 21 days of wearing the badge. To put it into perspective, his career spanned 14 Kentucky governors, from Happy Chandler to Matt Bevin, and 12 presidents of the United States, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Donald Trump.
From 1957 to 2009, Sayers was the chief of a one-person department in Silver Grove. For the last decade, he served as a court security deputy with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office.
As his retirement approached, co-workers began to wonder if Sayers was the longest-serving law enforcement officer in the state’s history.
At the request of Campbell County Sheriff Mike Jansen, the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (KLEC) researched the issue and confirmed that Sayers was the longest-serving officer in the state’s recorded history.
“Our office researched this issue months ago for Campbell County Sheriff Mike Jansen,” said KLEC Program Coordinator Deanna Boling. “There are at least three other officers, sheriffs and chiefs that come close, but we could not find any record of anyone working as long as John Sayers.”
There is also a question as to where Sayers’ length of service ranks across the globe.
“A couple of officers came to me, and told me they got in touch with Guinness World Records,” Jansen said.
The results of the Guinness research is not yet complete at the time of this writing, Jansen said.
In the Beginning
Like most good yarns, Sayers’ career began by accident – or more directly, when he came across a particularly bad accident in 1957 in Silver Grove.
Soon after speaking to law enforcement officers at the scene, Sayers approached the city council seeking to become the city’s police chief.
In the 1950s, Silver Grove was a sleepy community of about 1,200 people, much as it is today. It is a town where Sayers was born and raised. Townsfolks, including those on the city council, knew Sayers and gladly brought him on board as its part-time police chief.
“They gave me a badge and gun and said, ‘Now, you’re a policeman,” he recalled.
However, Sayers had a full-time mechanic’s job with the Total Transportation trucking company, where he retired from after 33 years in the 1990s. Therefore, when he wasn’t working on trucks, he patrolled the city and answered calls.
While he was on-duty at the trucking company, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office handled calls for service in the city.
Law enforcement from that era wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today, especially when it came to communication, Sayers said.
“We didn’t have any money for radios, so the county dispatch would call my house, and my wife would turn the porch light on to let me know I had a call,” he said. “So, I would go in to see what I had. We’ve come a long way since then.”
There isn’t much that Sayers hasn’t seen in his 62 years. From the mundane, such as traffic stops, to the tragic, most notably the May 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, which claimed 165 lives.
“That was probably one of the toughest with all of the fatalities,” he said.
No matter the call’s scope, each one had Sayers’ full attention.
“(The call) was important for the person who called you,” he explained. “If it’s important enough for them to call me, then I’m going to do anything I can to help them.”
That includes backing up other law enforcement officers when the need arose.
Jansen said he was the benefactor many times when Sayers responded to the same scene.
“When I worked for the Campbell County Police and the Fort Thomas Police, which butts up against Silver Grove, we always backed up each other,” the sheriff began. “I remember getting a call when I was with the county police to Young’s Tavern. There was a brawl. The next thing I know, I hear someone coming up behind me, and it’s John. He said, ‘I got this one, go get the other one.’ He was there, and he always had your back.”
Final Decade and Retirement
In spring 2009, Sayers decided to make a career move, going from Silver Grove police chief to a sworn deputy with Campbell County’s court security staff.
In the transition, he brought his disarming personality with him, which has made countless people coming to court at ease with the process.
“I always said, ‘Welcome to our humble home,’” Sayers said. “It defused the tension. You don’t see too many people who are happy to come to court. You try to put them at ease and break the ice a little bit with them, and it works.”
Once Sayer decided to call it a career, Jansen and many other Campbell County officials didn’t want the longtime lawman to ride off into the sunset unrecognized. So, unbeknownst to Sayers, they organized a surprise party.
“It was my last day in district court, and somebody said they wanted to see me in the courtroom,” Sayers recalled. “My first thought was, “What have I done now?” So, I walked back and came around the corner and saw the balloons, and said, ‘Oh crap. They got me.’”
It was at the retirement party where Sayers and his family first learned of his distinction of being the longest-serving officer in Kentucky’s history.
“It makes us feel old,” his wife Vivian quipped.
“I told her, “Who would be that dumb?” Sayers wisecracked.
Now that he has hung up his uniform, Sayers said he still has his responsibilities, and it starts at home.
“I’m gonna make (Vivian) happy,” he joked. “If momma isn’t happy, then no one is happy. She’s kept a honey-do list for all these years.”
“There’s no way he’s ever going to complete the list,” Vivian countered with a laugh.
While recalling the many memories of his career that covered seven decades, Sayers offered this tip to younger law enforcement officers.
“I always stressed to treat people fair, and never lie to them,” he said. “Tell them the truth, because it’s better than anything you can make up. Don’t abuse them, and they won’t stay angry with you, and you’ll learn a lot more about people.”
“John has always been the consummate good guy,” he offered. “He was strict, and he made sure he did the right thing so that it never came back on (him or the agency).”