SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta Police Department celebrated 75 years of service to the community on Thursday. In the council chambers of town hall nearly 20 people gathered for cake and coffee to recognize the milestone.
Police Chief Ernie Reigstad welcomed everyone standing with Senator Steve Oroho, Mayor Christine Quinn, Deputy Mayor Molly Whilesmith and Township Manager Bill Close. Reigstad’s wife Cindy, parents and daughters were in the audience along with Maryann Dilworth from the Sparta Recreation Department John Lagran and David Drew who provide tech support to the police were also there.
“It was almost by accident that I figured out it was the 75 anniversaries,” Reigstad said. He had been looking over old papers and saw the date.
He noted the date corresponded with the attack on Pearl Harbor. “There was a priority for civil defense,” at that time Reigstad said. “There seemed to be an interesting correlation.”
There was not a lot of written history early on according to Reigstad. “Depending on whose grandson you talk to, you get different stories.”
The Chief spoke of the many people he has served with during his 28 years in the Sparta Police Department, including serving with three chiefs who are still alive; Richard Hammler, Donald Earl and Fred Geffken. Hammler was in the audience. Earl was traveling, though he still calls Sparta home and Geffken now resides in Florida Reigstad said.
After thanking the local officials in attendance, Reigstad did give a brief overview. He said the department began with five or six people, as a part time police force. “There were two shifts,” he said, “ 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. During the overnight the State Police patrolled.”
It was noted Newton and Franklin had police departments prior to Sparta as they were "the big cities" of the time and Sussex County was the most populated county in the state.
They continued part time until the 50’s and that is when the department really started to grow, Reigstad said. He went on to talk about many of Sparta Police Department initiatives that were “firsts in Sussex County,” including the first radio, the first radio car and the first 911 call center.
“Since then we’ve added a lot of new technology,” he concluded.
Quinn picked it up from there.
“We are incredibly grateful for the police department every day for their service and sacrifice,” Quinn said. “They are a brotherhood.”
Sparta provides many services to other local municipalities including dispatch. “We are often the first to assist our neighbors and offer the technical support available through the STEP [Sparta Township Emergency Preparedness] program,” Quinn said. “We were the second CERT [Community Emergency Response Team] program in the county but are now the largest.”
Together Quinn and Reigstad went through a list of new technology currently assisting the officers including the license plate reader and ETicketing. “Other towns use our server [for those services] helping to defray the cost,” Quinn said.
“Law enforcement is a family that extends beyond our town, into the county,” Reigstad said. “Over my 28 years in service I’ve served with many great people.”
Quinn read a proclamation honoring the 75 Anniversary.
Oroho said he too would have a proclamation on behalf of himself, Assemblyman Parker Sparta and Assemblywoman Gail Phoebus. He stressed that there is a “strong correlation between property values and people feeling safe.”
“The Sparta Police Department has a great reputation for professionalism,” Oroho said. Congratulation to the chief and the past chiefs because that speaks to the leadership that comes from the top.”
“Sparta is blessed to have a quality professional police department,” Close said. “Fortunate to have officers who are committed not only professionally but also personally. We are fortunate to have such dedicated officers.”
Whilesmith said, “Our council has always made safety our number one priority. I would like to thank the officers for their service.”
After reading the proclamation Quinn said, “While it has become more dangerous to be a police officer, the officers have stepped up their service. The community also thanked them with recent recognition including a blue line taped down the middle of Main Street and cards with candy from students.
Hammler rose from the audience to speak as well. “I told his [Reigstad] parents years ago, he would be chief. Sparta is in the top five percent of police departments in the state, in over 500 municipalities. That is a good indication of the leadership from the Chief.
“He’s not going to be around forever but knowing many of the younger officers I can say the department will be in good hands in the future,” Hammler said.
Looking back at his history with the community Hammler said one of the biggest changes to the town came with the completion of Route 15. “Most people never heard of Sparta but then they drove through and saw what a nice town it was and moved in. Before that people lived and worked here. We knew all the business owners and civic groups. Everyone knew each other. It’s not good or bad, it’s just inevitable.”
In the 75 year history of the department there have been 92 men and women sworn to serve and protect Sparta. There have only been eight chiefs; Harry Ducey, Fred Spoolstra, P. George GEffken, R. Gordon Smith, Earl, Hammler, Frederick Geffken and the current Chief.
Archive photos provided by Sparta Police Department