Many in the Smyrna area have been offering their memories of and tributes to Sally Walls following her passing on July 4, 2020, at the age of 73.
Walls, a native of Smyrna, was hired as a patrol officer with Smyrna Police Department in 1980. The first woman at the department, she worked her way through the ranks, retiring as assistant chief. She was the first female to serve in that capacity in the state of Tennessee. After her retirement from Smyrna Police Department, Sally was elected as Police and Fire Commissioner and continued to be an advocate for public safety, emphasizing the need for a well trained and educated force. Walls also served on the Smyrna Town Council.
“God bless you, Sally, you made a tremendous difference in so many lives, and I’m so grateful that you were part of mine,” Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Keith Lowery said. He said Walls, his former boss, “was so much more than that. She was a mentor, a friend, and sometimes when she made sure I was taking the right path in my life and career, she felt like a mom.
“You taught this old cop a great deal about law enforcement, people and life.”
Trish Nash said she had “lost a friend, a woman with great determination and strong will who left a legacy to our community.”
Walls was “a real trailblazer” in the Smyrna community, according to Keith Bratcher. “She had a strong positive impact on Smyrna’s law enforcement.”
Current Smyrna Police Chief Kevin Arnold noted that Walls “understood the value of education and training in police work. She allowed an expanded field training program to begin at the police department that is still used today. Over 60 percent of the officers at Smyrna Police have college degrees and Sally had a role in that. And she was the first administrator to get officers specialized training.”
In the late 1970s, Walls’ husband, Major James Walls, constructed a backyard wall for Sally to climb as she prepared for the police academy.
Mike Sparks, who lived next door to the Walls at the time, says he remembers Walls, who was not a tall woman, determined to get over the six-foot obstacle.
“That wall, in my mind, served as a metaphor to keep climbing even against the odds and never give up,” Sparks said. “I watched her heart. She never gave up. She kept climbing that wall, kept climbing that wall. People laughed at her. She suffered jeers, but she kept on trailblazing.”
That lesson in tenacity stuck with Sparks, he says.
He also recalls how “excessive policing” could trouble Walls later in her career. Decades ago, in many small towns, if a police officer were to pull over an old vehicle with a missing taillight, Walls and many others would tell them to get their taillight repaired, Sparks says. Today, this encounter could end up costing the driver, perhaps already being someone down on their luck in a beat-up vehicle, $200 or $300, but Walls would balance compassion and humanity with the desire to keep the community safe.
Sparks went on to say that Walls would not hesitate to identify and call out a “bad cop,” understanding that the bad ones reflect negatively upon communities and all of the good officers.
“Sally would say that the bad cops need to be picked out like weeds,” Sparks says.
La Vergne Vice Mayor Melisa Brown also added to the tributes, saying that Walls and other strong female leaders “paved the road for others like me to become active in local politics.”