Above: Chief Jeff Murphy (left) and Captain Larry Sparkes
East Lansing Police Chief Jeff Murphy has announced his plans to retire, with his last day planned for Friday, June 2. Murphy is a thiry-year veteran of the East Lansing Police Department who started his career with the force in 1987. He rose through the ranks and was promoted to Chief in January of 2016.
In the press release announcing the retirement, East Lansing’s City Manager George Lahanas praised Murphy and the experience he has brought to the role: “During his time as chief, he significantly increased the department’s transparency and outreach to the community. He will be sorely missed, but we wish him all the best in this next chapter of his professional career.”
Murphy has worked with his staff on bringing body cameras to the ELPD force, on implementing anti-bias and de-escalation techniques, on developing better police-community relations, and on increasing transparency.
Lahanas is not the only one who is disappointed that Murphy will be leaving East Lansing. “I’m sorry to see him go,” Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier tells ELi. “He had a wealth of experience that will be hard to replace.”
Mayor Mark Meadows concurs, telling ELi, “I would say that he is extraordinarily responsive to community concerns about policing and a true community oriented officer and leader. He will be missed.”
Murphy’s influence has been felt south of Grand River Avenue, as well. MSU Community Liaison Suchitra Webster tells ELi via email, “Jeff did many things to partner with MSU. He served as a long-term member of the Celebrations Committee; he sat on employment searches and attended many functions where town-gown relationships were highlighted (such as many events sponsored by the Community Relations Coalition). He was also a good thinking partner and an excellent communicator.”
Councilmember Erik Altmann praised Murphy for going “above and beyond” with respect to community relations, noting especially Murphy’s habit of keeping himself informed by regularly attending City Council meetings. “He always had a thoughtful answer for any question, and handled stressful situations with a calm that made me envious,” Altmann tells ELi. “His retirement is a real loss, but I wish him the very best.”
“The City of East Lansing has been a great place to work,” said Murphy in his retirement announcement. “It’s not every organization that has 30-year employees and I think that is a testament to the supportive and positive working environment. It’s going to be hard to leave, but I’m looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
In an email to ELi, he added, “I do feel we have very qualified people at ELPD and I'm confident the City Manager will make a great decision on my replacement. Not just me but every police employee has worked in their own way to promote transparency, trust, openness, fairness and legitimacy into everything we do.”
Murphy also thanked ELi’s team for their work, writing, “We need…organizations like ELi because police departments really need to know what's expected of them. We could very easily think we know and be totally off-base. Most people won't take the time to tell us when we fall short, until things get really bad, which makes our job harder because we don't know where to make adjustments.”
Murphy added, “Another thing you've done that's been positive and has made your police department better is you report the news equally. Positive or negative news, it appears to me you don't care which it is, as long as the story is complete, and we're thankful for that. When you report positive stories, you’re showing our officers, in a very public way, that they are appreciated and, more importantly, supported by the community. Police need the community’s support and without it, the community will not be protected as well.”
The City says it is planning an “open and competitive search” to find a new Police Chief and, according to their press release, “the public will be involved in that process.” In the meantime, Captain Larry Sparkes has been appointed to serve as the interim chief. Sparkes has been with the ELPD since 1987 and has worked in many different capacities for the force. Having risen steadily through the ranks of the Department, he was promoted to Captain in August of 2015. He will become Interim Chief on June 3.
The search for Murphy’s permanent replacement could be complicated by the City’s budget problems. Speaking to ELi about Murphy’s decision to retire, Councilmember Altman said, “My first thought was that we’re losing good people because we can’t pay them enough. In the end, I’m not sure that was an issue, but boy these people are overworked and underpaid. Something for all us to think about as we start talking new revenues.”