The new chief of the Lincoln Police Department is a sheriff’s deputy in Fort Worth, Texas, who plans to bring his passion for law enforcement and problem-solving 2,000 miles northeast as he leads a police force for the first time.
Johnnie “JD” Sparks will become chief of the Lincoln Police Department on March 8, replacing Dan Summers, who retired as public safety director in December after more than seven years in the role. John Walsh has taken the helm of the department in the interim period.
Sparks’ new role in Lincoln will not be his first experience in Maine. Interested in seeing the beauty of New England’s forests — which came to his attention on the sitcom “Newhart” — he and his wife traveled to Bangor for a week-long summer vacation about 18 years ago
“It was just one of those places that we fell in love with when we got there,” Sparks, 56, said.
That memory came back to him when he applied for the chief position in Lincoln, a spot he wasn’t sure he would get because he lived out of state. Yet Lincoln Town Manager Rick Bronson said Sparks quickly became the clear choice among the six applicants for the job.
“He seems like a very thoughtful, up-scale, experienced guy,” Bronson said.
Sparks grew up in Longview, Texas — located in the eastern part of the state — in a law enforcement family. His grandfather died while on duty for the Longview Police Department, his great uncle was a captain who served in the Longview department for 49 years, and his grandmother’s cousin was chief of police there for several years.
Sparks took his first positions in the small East Texas communities of Frankston and Daingerfield.
“In East Texas, you basically went into two lines of work: the oil field or law enforcement,” Sparks said. “I chose law enforcement.”
After a short period in the private sector, he returned to law enforcement working for the North Little Rock Police Department in Arkansas for about 15 years, before moving to his current job at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office about 14 years ago.
He’s currently responsible for about 25 deputies and indirectly responsible for about 200, but the eight-officer Lincoln Police Department will be the first agency he will lead as chief.
Sparks said the idea of leading a smaller force appealed to him, as it would allow him to establish close personal relationships with officers.
He said he wants to create a culture of respect in the department, encouraging suggestions and input from officers. This kind of environment is the best way to address retention challenges seen across Maine and the U.S.
“The biggest thing in keeping officers is making them feel like they are needed and wanted, and making them happy where they’re working,” Sparks said.
Sparks was packing for his move on Friday, following a winter storm that had sent temperatures in Fort Worth lower than they were in Lincoln. Sparks and his family hadn’t lost electricity, but they did go without water for more than seven hours after a local pumping station froze.
Sparks is trying to purchase a home in Lincoln where he would live with his wife and daughter, who he said plans to transfer to the University of Maine.
“I’ve loved being in law enforcement,” Sparks said. “And I plan on continuing until I just can’t do it anymore.”