New EL Police Chief committed to making transparency, outreach top priorities
Friday was a long-awaited day for Larry Sparkes.
After taking an oath of honor Friday, Sparkes was officially sworn in as East Lansing's newest chief of police. Sparkes was named the interim police chief in June after the retirement of his predecessor, Jeff Murphy.
And much like Murphy, who expanded the department's involvement with community outreach, Sparkes is looking to continue making transparency a top priority for the department.
To do that, he said he's committed to working with all members of the East Lansing community to make it the "best place we can make it."
"I want to increase communication between within the community and also within the police department, and I think you do that through community outreach," Sparkes said. "You work with others to resolve issues. The best decisions, as I’ve said, are made collectively, when everyone has a voice and that is certainly what we intend to do at the East Lansing Police Department."
Sparkes has spent over 30 years working for ELPD, along with stints as mayor, city council member and fire chief in his hometown of Laingsburg. As an internal member with such a wide range of experience, he was seen by many as the best fit for the position.
"I really expect good things from Larry," East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas said. "I think East Lansing has taken a lot of steps in the direction of transparency and engagement, and I think Chief Sparkes will be continuing that push."
Mayor Mark Meadows also thinks Sparkes will continue to bring positive change to the department.
Meadows met Sparkes when he was first elected to East Lansing City Council in 1995, and said Sparkes has always been an effective communicator, which Meadows thinks will translate into even greater transparency between police and the community.
"He’s always been an outstanding officer and he’s always had, I think, the most important aspect of policing as the top thing that he does — which is communicate with people," Meadows said. "He likes community policing, so he wants people to understand exactly what the police are doing."
"And he isn’t afraid to use flexibility when he deals with our major population, which is students. Sometimes you kind of get yourself in a situation, and he’s a type of guy who will give you some instruction but doesn’t drag you off to jail every time you do something."
In a previous interview with The State News, Murphy said his decision to recommend Sparkes as his successor came largely from Sparkes' role as deputy chief during Murphy's stint as chief. Murphy said Sparkes understood the importance of the community outreach programs created under Murphy's tenure, which put Sparkes at an advantage to potential outside hires.
"He's been in on most every decision," Murphy said. "He makes recommendations, he understands why we do community outreach ... He knows why it works and what the risks are. Someone from the outside the department may not have any idea, and they don't know the history and they don't know the people."
Last week, ELPD started its TweetAlong, a virtual ride along to show citizens what officers are doing while on patrol, and its efforts like that are key to developing better means of communication and trust between everyday people and police officers, Lahanas said.
"That’s the way police departments need to be, and luckily for use we’ve had chiefs — both in Chief Murphy and Chief Sparkes — who really get the community outreach and engagement and maintaining proper trust is critical for our department," Lahanas said.