DANVERS — Richard Landers spent 37 years with the Danvers Police Department, rising to the rank of chief before retiring in 2002, but many remember him for his likable personality as the officer walking the beat in Danvers Square.
He broke ground when he became the department's first crime prevention officer and, later, the first accreditation manager when the department became nationally accredited in 1986, police Chief Neil Ouellette said.
Landers, a father of four, died April 10 at age 69 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease.
During his career, he worked as a patrolman, shift commander, detective, crime prevention officer, school safety officer, press officer and interim chief. Landers started as a reserve officer in 1965 and went full time in 1970. He was promoted to chief in February 1999.
"We lost a great man," said Jim George, a retired patrolman who served for 20 years at the department with Landers. "You couldn't ask for a nicer man to work for."
George served as one of the last beat officers in Danvers Square, a job he said Landers held before he did.
"He treated everyone fair out there on the beat," George said. "He was an excellent person."
"He was very easy to talk to," said Bill Bradstreet, who retired from the force in 2006 and served under five chiefs. "He was just a nice guy; he had an affable way about him. He could talk with anybody."
One of the things that made Landers a good fit for the square was his ability to meet people and easily interact with them.
"It was a natural fit," Ouellette said.
Ouellette said that at Landers' funeral at the Maple Street Congregational Church on Friday, a close friend of Landers, Barry Robinson, remarked that Landers "was the only one smart enough to get a job to be paid to hang around the square."
Landers had a natural affinity with kids, Ouellette said. A standout football player at the former Holten High and later an inductee into the Danvers High Blue and White Hall of Fame, he coached many of the kids who grew up to respect him as a police officer.
"He used to watch over those kids and catch a problem before it got out of hand," Ouellette said.
Landers also practiced the art of community policing before it became a buzzword in law enforcement.
"He was at the forefront of it," Ouellette said.
To move forward in the department, Landers took over as its first crime prevention officer. He would go to the schools and talk with students.
Back then, house breaks were rampant.
"He would literally go to homes and conduct safety surveys," Ouellette said.
He would talk to homeowners about installing deadbolts, pinning windows shut or organizing neighborhood watches. In the mid-1980s, he appeared on television to talk about crime prevention, Ouellette said.
A picture of Landers published in The Salem News in 1982 shows Landers speaking to a customer in a local mall standing in front of a sign that reads: "Crime prevention is everyone's business," under the emblem for the Essex County Crime Prevention Officers Association.
"He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet," said Sgt. Robert Bettencourt, who heads up community services, a role that involves crime prevention and overseeing school resource officers.
Landers was captain when Bettencourt came over from the Peabody Police Department in 1994, and they connected because of their love of sports. Landers epitomized the notion that police work was all about helping people and finding them the right services, not simply arresting suspects.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if he didn't have confidence in me," said Ouellette, who became chief in 2005, after taking over for former Chief Stuart Chase.
As a sergeant, Landers gave officers opportunities to progress, and Ouellette credits Landers for allowing him to advance his skills. Landers also served as the department's spokesman for many years.
"He was a good supervisor and a good boss," said Ouellette, whom Landers promoted to lieutenant in 1999.
On the morning of Aug. 23, 1999, Landers, then 57, suffered a heart attack while at the police station. His son, former Selectman Michael Landers, said at the time that his father underwent a medical procedure to clear a blocked blood vessel. Landers fully recovered and returned to work in early November of that year.
An anniversary trip to New York with his wife, Beverly, a week before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, gave Landers a changed perspective on life and led him to ponder retirement a few months earlier than he had planned. His tour of the World Trade Center made him want to take time to savor life, he told The Salem News.
"It was just amazing to have been there the week before and to have seen the magnificence of those two buildings, and then they're gone, just like that," he told a reporter.
His last day at work was Jan. 31, 2002.
It was Landers who came up with a plan to reconfigure the front lobby of the station on Ash Street to better use the space, but he retired before the renovations could be done. When the job was done, around 2007, the department dedicated the new report room to Landers, Ouellette said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.