The new police chief in East Hampton Town, Michael Sarlo, has long been a familiar face on the East End.
His family moved to East Hampton in 1975 when he was 4 years old. His father, Chris, had been hired as the principal of East Hampton High School, a position in which he served until 1993, and Sarlo and his three brothers all graduated from the high school during his run.
“I joked I had to do well in school because he knew my grades before I did,” Sarlo says. During high school, he earned a number of citizenship and sportsmanship awards and was an athletics captain. “I really enjoyed being part of a team,” he says, adding that the experiences have served him well through life.
He says, during an interview at his office in Wainscott, that many people did good things for him as he grew up in East Hampton, and now it is very important to him to give back to his community and set an example. Now he lives in Springs with his wife, Paula, an interior designer, and his children, 10-year-old Daniel and 8-year-old Melina.
Though he has risen all the way through the ranks to chief, Sarlo didn’t always want to be a cop. He attended University of Maryland, College Park for communications. He aspired to be a broadcast personality and interned at WTEM sports radio.
“I enjoyed the work itself, but during my internship I found it wasn’t the career path I wanted to pursue,” he says. It was around the same time that all the color commentary jobs began to be snatched up by former pro athletes. He later worked on Wall Street for Bear Stearns for 10 months and found that, too, wasn’t for him.
His older brother, Kevin, was an East Hampton Town police officer and encouraged him to take the police exam. He scored well and in October 1995 he became a patrol officer based in Montauk.
In 2002, he was promoted to patrol sergeant, overseeing a squad of seven officers, and he later became East Hampton precinct commander, based out of the town hall office complex. He says it wasn’t his first choice to leave patrol work, but he looked at it as an opportunity. Under former Chief Todd Sarris, Sarlo was charged with procuring equipment and establishing new protocols for the new precinct. He also represented the police department at town meetings. “Chief Sarris trusted me to go to a lot of planning meetings,” Sarlo says, and Sarlo worked with the town board and town attorney toward code updates.
He attended the FBI National Academy, which is a professional development course for law enforcement leaders to raise the standards of local agencies, back in 2004. Sarlo was appointed the department’s state accreditation manager in 2005 and he also made lieutenant that year. Among his responsibilities was to manage State Liquor Authority investigations to make sure bars were complying with the law.
Then in 2009, he was promoted to captain and named the Montauk Precinct Commander, which returned him to his old stomping grounds from his days as a patrol officer. It also meant he’d be responsible for ensuring safety at the Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade—the second largest such parade in New York State.
He has also served as the department’s liaison to a couple citizens advisory committees, which meant he got residents’ complaints and addressed them. That can mean explaining why a cop car can’t be stationed on the same block 24/7—the department has to direct limited resources in the most efficient way. Sarlo says he believes law enforcement isn’t about writing tons of tickets and making tons of arrests. Rather, it’s about maintaining public safety. And often it’s appropriate for officers to direct disputes to be resolved in civil or family court before they rise to criminality.
Sarlo became the executive officer—Sarris’s right-hand man—in 2010, overseeing everything from the budget to scheduling and staffing.
“The budget is always the number 1 issue,” he says, considering personnel, overtime and equipment. And the 2% annual tax levy increase cap imposed by New York State is not adhered to by service contractors and utilities, he notes. However, he says the town administration understands the balancing act and the police department has been able to keep up with the times.
His first day as chief was December 29, 2013, when he took the helm of a department with 62 full-time sworn officers, including seven detectives. He also oversees 12 civilian dispatchers.
The department’s job is its toughest during the summer, when the population swells, Sarlo acknowledges. In 2012, there was an uptick in motor vehicle accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries, which has refocused efforts on road safety. Sarlo says in 2013 the department cracked down on distracted drivers—such as those who text and drive—and that will continue in 2014.
Montauk in particular has exploded in recent years, he says, and he endeavors to curtail the quality of life issues associated with a boom. He is using part-time police officers and “directed patrols,” he says.
Townwide, the police department has seen an uptick in larcenies and burglaries the last two years. When one incident is reported, the department will sometimes hang door tags at neighbors’ houses to alert them to the situation and ask them to call the police if they discover they have also been victims. Sarlo stresses that it’s important that residents always report crimes, so that the police can track patterns and respond appropriately.
Sarlo seeks to raise awareness of credit card and internet fraud, which is also on the rise. He says that the scope of being a small-town police officer has expanded exponentially since he first joined the department. “When our guys roll out the door, they can do everything from CPR to larceny to fatal accidents…”
Outside of his profession, he’s involved as a youth athletics coach and served on the East Hampton Little League board. At 43 years old, he is looking forward to many years serving the town as the police chief and otherwise.