Sand Springs’ new police chief is also one of its newest residents.
Police Chief John Mars — who was officially sworn in at Monday night’s City Council meeting — closed on a house in the city earlier that day.
“As police chief, it’s very advantageous — I guess the word is necessary — to live in the community you serve,” Mars said last week.
Originally from the Chicago area, Mars and his wife raised their two daughters in a different Tulsa suburb: Jenks.
“Our kids went to Jenks (schools), so we wanted to remain there. We didn’t want to uproot them,” he said.
But now, with one daughter married and living in Illinois and the other attending college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, “we went ahead and sold the house,” he said.
“It was a natural fit for timing and necessity.”
Don’t expect Mars to need a map to get around town, though. This year marks his 30th on the Sand Springs police force.
He joined the department in 1991 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1996. By 2007, he had advanced to captain of the Patrol Division, and in 2016, he became the Police Department’s deputy chief.
His first official day as chief was March 8.
“I am very pleased and accepting of this great opportunity to serve our citizens of Sand Springs,” Mars said Thursday. “When you have the opportunity to serve your community, the more you want to continue.
“As I moved up through the ranks, the more I moved up, the more people I was able to reach,” he said. “That gives me a better opportunity.”
Mars said he sees a kind of symbiosis in how the Police Department and community interact.
“The community supports us,” he said. “Sitting here in a new building that the citizens of Sand Springs made sure we had — they raised the funds.
“Some areas of the country don’t have it like we do here in Sand Springs,” he added. “We are very fortunate.”
And what do residents get in return? Mars said he believes they get dignity, respect and transparency.
“We’re very specific about what we do here in the department and about keeping our public informed,” he said. “We want that transparency. Our policies are published openly on the web.”
He added, “Here in Sand Springs, our Police Department culture is based on value and behavior. … People find safety in relationships. We’re going to have a good relationship with our community. It’s our culture.
“And regardless of the circumstances, people are going to get the same dignity and respect from our Police Department.”
Mars points to protests across the country demanding accountability from law enforcement in regard to interactions with people, especially people of color, as an area where transparency and respect can go a long way toward stopping problems before they start.
“We didn’t have that so much here in Sand Springs,” he said. “And I think part of that is based in how we do our community policing and how we keep our citizens informed about what’s going on over here in the Police Department.”
Mars has no intention of trying to fix what isn’t broken.
City Manager Mike Carter, who preceded Mars as police chief, “put into effect a very good community policing program here in Sand Springs,” Mars said. “So we have that strength and strong culture, and that is intact, and we’re going to maintain the strength of those programs.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some ideas for progress.
Mars is moving forward quickly with an effort to seek accreditation for the Police Department through an Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police program called OLEAP, or the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.
The program gives law enforcement agencies in the state a path to demonstrate that they meet commonly accepted minimum standards and best practices for efficient and effective operations.
The program is endorsed by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, or CLEET, as well as the Oklahoma Municipal League. Since its inception in 2001, 16 agencies have been accredited and five more have been certified.
Mars said the Police Department will begin the on-site part of the process in June, when a review team “will come in and take a look at our operation, our policies, … everything. Property storage is really big with these folks, and this new facility has improved that” for the Police Department.
“We have a history of very good chiefs who have been very innovative and brought us to where we are today,” Mars said. There are two sides to that for me: ‘Oh, my gosh — how am I going to fill those shoes?’ But also, ‘Oh, my gosh — I have learned so much from them.’”