Above: ELPD Interim Captain Steve Gonzalez, left, and Chief Larry Sparkes, right. (Sparkes smiles a lot, but rarely for photos for some reason.)
Larry Sparkes has been named the new permanent Chief of the East Lansing Police Department. Sparkes has been acting as Interim Chief since June, following the retirement of Jeff Murphy, and has now been awarded the permanent position following 31 years of service in ELPD.
According to a City press release, Sparkes “was part of a competitive hiring process for the ELPD chief position, including an interview with a community panel and round-robin interviews with key City leadership and staff members. He was ultimately selected from a group of three finalists for the position of chief.”
I sat down with Sparkes and his Interim Captain, Steve Gonzalez, yesterday afternoon to talk about what the community might expect under their leadership. Sparkes said that his philosophy will focus on three tenets:
- community outreach;
- community safety;
- quality service with fair and impartial policing.
Sparkes elaborates on the first point, “Anytime we can involve the public, we intend to do so.” He said residents of and visitors to the City can expect to see police officers out and about working within the community. For example, he says, “You’ll see a substantial increase in bicycle patrols” during Fall Welcome for MSU.
As for community safety, ELPD is now equipping officers with Narcan, an opioid-antidote that allows officers to treat people with opioid overdoses quickly. Sparkes also indicates that he plans to use a strategy of visible pre-game enforcement on MSU big-game weekends, because that approach helps avoid situations where parties grow out of control. He says the approach will not be heavy-handed but will focus on safety.
With regard to “fair and impartial policing,” Sparkes told me yesterday that Interim Captain Gonzalez has put together a policy on this which ELPD expects City Manager George Lahanas to approve soon. Gonzalez told me the policy is basically “a reaffirmation of our commitment to being unbiased and equitable” in policing. He said he feels it is important to have a written policy on this issue to reinforce core principles and to provide clear guidance on policing.
Gonzalez said yesterday that, with regard to immigration enforcement, “Our stance is that is not our job.” He says ELPD is a local police force that serves the people of East Lansing and visitors to East Lansing. “We are not immigration or customs agents. We work for the City of East Lansing, not the federal government.”
Gonzalez and Sparkes indicated that they had worked with the ACLU to refine their policy. They said the work with the ACLU was a very positive experience. ELPD is now working to ensure that there is a way to help people in East Lansing’s jail know their rights with regard to immigration enforcement. Said Gonzalez, “We don’t need to build any more walls with the public than already exist.” He and Sparkes said the goal of ELPD is to build bridges of trust and open communication in the community to keep people safe.
Before City Council began last night, I asked Mayor Mark Meadows about Sparkes’s appointment as Chief. Said Meadows, “He’s a great choice, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
Referring to Sparkes’s many positions of leadership in Laingsburg, where Sparkes currently lives, Meadows told me, “What Larry really brings to the table that maybe a lot of other police professionals would not is that he’s also been the mayor and a long-time Council member in his community, so he sees the work from both sides of the table. He will be a real help to us continuing what [retired Chief] Jeff Murphy was doing in terms of having a community-policing organization, having a positive relationship with our community.”
Sparkes is now in the process of selling his house in Laingsburg to move to East Lansing. His official swearing-in will happen on August 25 at 2 p.m. at the East Lansing Public Library, and members of the public are welcome to attend. You can read more about his personal and professional history in this article by ELi’s Jessy Gregg.