East Lansing Police Captain Larry Sparkes will be stepping in as Interim Police Chief starting this Saturday, June 3, when current Chief Jeff Murphy’s retirement takes effect. Murphy held the position of Chief for just over a year, with a total of 31 years of service in the Department. His tenure as Chief was marked by efforts to increase community outreach and transparency within ELPD, a trend that seems likely to continue under the leadership of Sparkes.
Speaking with ELi about the upcoming transition, Sparkes praised recent outreach efforts, such as the Community Forum hosted last October, which featured representatives from Black Lives Matter and the ACLU along with other community leaders and liaisons.
“I think that that really demonstrated that when everyone comes together, you may not walk in there understanding each other one hundred percent, and you may not walk out of there understanding each other one hundred percent, but you give each other one hundred percent for being there and for trying and with the promise that that’s just the beginning.” He added, “I think that was probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen.”
Like Murphy, Sparkes also has three decades’ experience within the ELPD, starting as a jail officer in 1987. He was eighteen years old and East Lansing’s jail only had four cells. Subsequently sponsored by the Department to attend the Police Academy, Sparkes began work as a road officer in 1997.
According to Sparkes, some of his best years with the Department were the ones that he spent in the Community Activities Bureau, a division that no longer exists in the ELPD. Duties in that capacity included “going out and doing an ounce of prevention here and there, trying to prevent miscommunication.”
Sparkes also worked as a Student Alliance Officer, engaging with sororities, fraternities, and with student groups both on and off campus. “That was the same kind of thing, where it wasn’t uncommon for me to stop in at a sorority, say hi, play pool with them once in a while. That was a very unique niche in itself.”
In addition to the hours he works with the City of East Lansing, Sparkes is the Chief of LSW (Laingsburg Sciota Woodhull) Emergency Services, which oversees fire and emergency medical services for a hundred-square-mile area including Laingsburg and the surrounding communities.
He is also a former mayor of Laingsburg and will have put in eighteen years with the Laingsburg City Council when the term he is currently serving ends. “Those life experiences are all about dealing with the public—forming relationships with the public,” he says. “I’ve learned that we have to be in it together. Everyone has a stake in the game, and your best results come when everyone comes together to solve a problem.”
Communication is a theme that Sparkes returns to again and again both when talking about law enforcement and about public relations. In recalling an event held at a south Lansing church by the Lansing chapter of Black Lives Matter, Sparkes said, “One of the things they said when you came in—which I thought was fantastic—was that you can’t sit at a table with someone you know.” Conversation over dinner, he recalls, “was just talking openly and honestly about the issues facing our society, and it all came down to one thing in my mind: that we have to treat each other with respect, mutual respect. Trust comes later but it’s built on that mutual respect [and] also communication. Without communication, you can’t have anything.”
Sparkes appears confident in his ability to lead the Department while the City leadership undertakes a nationwide search to find a replacement for the outgoing chief. The incoming chief—which could be Sparkes, another internal candidate, or someone external—will face the complicated job of policing a diverse community, with a large student population and the alcohol-related problems that go along with Big Ten game days. The job is further complicated by reductions in staff made necessary by East Lansing’s ongoing economic problems.
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