Capt. Tommy Campsey

Capt. Tommy Campsey

When Brentwood incorporated 50 years ago, law enforcement was not a part of the charter. 

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department covered the area and residents who sought to do so could also opt to pay for police protection provided by a private service.

But in 1971, Howard Buttrey became the city’s first police chief, leading three officers patrol-ling the streets.

Capt. Tommy Campsey wasn’t one of the first members of the new city police department. He came along soon after, in 1977, but he could go down as one of the most colorful members of the police department. 

Anyone in law enforcement — city and county — who knew or worked with Campsey on a project or case during his more than 35 years of service has a story.

Perhaps Campsey’s “colorful personality” developed from years of listening to his own grandfather’s police stories around the Sunday dinner table. 

Campsey’s grandfather was a detective with the Nashville Police Department before Metro Nashville incorporated. He retired from the police force in 1964, the year before Campsey was born, but the stories remained active and stirred a little boy’s imagination.

“I idolized my grandfather, and by eighth grade, I knew I wanted to be a police officer,” Campsey said. 

Campsey began working with the Metro Nashville Police Department in 1975, handling communication complaints, but that wasn’t really what he had in mind. He wanted to work in a smaller police department where he had more impact. 

He headed south, to the Franklin Police Department, in 1977, but, apparently, that wasn’t small enough. Eight months later, Campsey found the right match with the Brentwood Police Depart-ment. He remained there for nearly 36 years.

“At that time, they hired in groups of three,” Campsey said. “I was the ninth or 12th patrol officer hired. Until the day I left, I loved the community of Brentwood and Williamson County. It was always an absolute pleasure to go to work.”

It wasn’t all peaches and cream. Sure, Campsey enjoyed “locking up the bad guys.” He often joked, “I can’t believe I get paid for doing this.” But there was a bad side, the stuff most law en-forcement officers want to push to the very back of their brain. 

“The serial rapists and murders are the stuff they can’t pay you enough,” he said. 

Campsey was involved in only two shooting incidents while he was on the job. The first was in 1979, when he received a call about a suspect they were chasing in the Crocket Hills subdivi-sion. There was a car chase “and the guy shot at me four times before I got a shot,” he said. 

“He wrecked his car and I shot (and wounded) him, then apprehended him.”

The second was the bank robbery on May 6, 2002, that area residents will never forget. Two Brentwood police officers were wounded that day and the robber was killed.

Officer Stephanie Bellis was wounded in the lower arm when she charged the man, who was shooting an AR-15. Sgt. Tommy Walsh, one of Campsey’s best friends and now an assistant chief, was driving his cruiser when he was wounded in the left leg. The man was killed as he at-tempted to execute Walsh.

“That bank robbery was the remnants of a California shooting,” he said. “The Lord protected me. In today’s world, anything can happen, it’s just less frequent here,” Campsey said, still both-ered by the incident. “It’s hard for me to go down city streets without remembering the incidents I was involved in.”

When Campsey first started with the BPD, Franklin and Concord roads were two lanes and there was no interstate exit near Franklin Road, he said.

Maryland Farms was a three-building complex, Maryland Way was a gravel road with a lot of pot holes and Brentwood’s population was 9,000. It’s now about 42,000 and growing.

“We really didn’t have a business district,” he said. “All there was on Moores Lane was a Quick Sac market — now a grill store — and the Hot Stop market, now a Mapco.”

Campsey received three awards from the BPD and one from the Fairview Police Department for his life-saving actions during an armed robbery at Brentwood Wine & Liquor on Third Street.

“I give all the credit to the Lord,” he said. “I want to make it clear, the Lord used me and through it all, he took care of me.”

He chuckled as he recalled the man who stole a check and tried to cash it but couldn’t spell the word “thousand.” By the time he figured it out, Campsey arrived and arrested him.

“He got arrested because he couldn’t spell,” he said.

Like his grandfather at the Sunday dinner table, once he gets going, well, be prepared to sit a while.

“The reality is we see things nobody should see,” he said. “And yet, 150 officers were killed nationwide last year. Where else (except the military) do you find people willing to lay down their lives for a stranger and run toward the gunfire?”

Campsey retired from the BPD in 2013 and is now the safety coordinator for the city of Oak Hill, Tennessee. 

Carole Robinson may be contacted at


(1) comment

John M

Tommy Campsey was a great officer. His era of law enforcement left egos out of the job. He treated everyone he encountered with respect and for the most part he was able to defuse difficult situations rather than escalate the angst. Brentwood has a police department with mostly cool, level-headed officers and that is due in large part to the leadership of, and example set by Tommy Campsey. One very important part of Tommy's career not mentioned in the article though, was his famous arrest of the late great George Jones, who, if I remember correctly, had Tommy appear in the video for his song "Choices."

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