When she was 3, Sasha Larkin decided she was going to be a cop.
She said she fell in love with the TV show “CHiPs” while she was growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it inspired her to pursue a career in law enforcement. Along the way, Larkin earned black belts, worked as a professional ballerina, became a certified yoga instructor and had three kids.
Now, more than two decades into her career at the Metropolitan Police Department, the captain is heading the department’s new Summerlin Area Command. The new substation ran is to run its first full shift Saturday, her 21st anniversary of working at Metro.
Larkin is known for implementing community-focused policing, and she said she’s excited to bring that to the master-planned community in northwest Las Vegas.
She studied biological anthropology in college — with a focus on odontology, or the study of dead people’s teeth, though she’s not really sure what she planned to do with that knowledge — and said she’s been interested in anthropology for most of her life.
“My mom blessed me with the love of travel early on,” Larkin said. “I think it really came from getting that bug and meeting people from all over the world.”
Love is love
One of Larkin’s most important principles is simply loving everyone. She said it’s something she implements in her own life, and something she stresses raising her children.
In addition to a 25-year-old stepson who runs his own business in California, Larkin has a 9-year-old son and 6-year-old twin daughters whom she brings with her to most community events. Through that, her kids have experienced many different walks of life, including various religious services.
“They’ve been to mosques. They’ve been to synagogues. They’ve been to the Hindu temple. They go to all the different holiday celebrations for the aforementioned religions, and they don’t have the understanding that one is different from the other,” Larkin said. “To them it’s all God. It’s all love.”
Lt. Michelle Tavarez, who’s been mentored by Larkin since she was in the police academy, said the world needs more people like Larkin.
“It’s amazing because now you have someone like her and her husband that are raising their kids to believe this stuff and imparting that wisdom into others,” Tavarez said. “And that’s how we bring peace into this world, is we teach and we learn to just be together as one with no judgment.”
The concentric circle
Lt. Rick Given, who has worked as Larkin’s administrative lieutenant for the past two years at the Northwest Area Command, said her love of people led her to base her policing on what she calls the concentric circle.
He said the circle basically means going in and resolving whatever the initial issue is, but then going the extra step to dig out the bigger issue and figure out how it can be solved.
“In normal policing we do what we do, then we back out,” Given said. “But she was like, ‘No, we need to go in there with our community partners and say: Hey, what is the root of the problem and what can we do to help?’”
Given said this level of care for the community makes a difference, and it shows at Larkin’s monthly First Tuesday meetings.
Larkin said her recent First Tuesday at the Northwest Area Command had a crowd of over 200 people. Given said that’s unheard of.
“I’ve never seen a First Tuesday that packed before, unless there was a problem in the neighborhood or something like that,” he said. “But with Sasha, we kept having to find bigger rooms.”
Kathryn Templeton, who has been friends with Larkin for 20 years, said she’s not surprised by her friend’s reputation. She said she’s seen the same phenomenon in Larkin’s personal life, and in the yoga retreats the two do together.
“Sasha has an amazing talent for creating cohesion,” Templeton said. “Wherever she goes, she always ends up being the thread that holds together very different types of people who wouldn’t usually find each other.”
Finding an outlet
Larkin said her mom put her in dance class when she was 3, and she had a brief stint as a professional ballet dancer when she first moved to Las Vegas after college. But when she was 9, she found her true passion: martial arts.
For years, Larkin said, she traveled around the world competing in martial arts competitions, and she now has a third-degree black belt in kenpo karate. But in 1997 when she got into a bad car accident, her chiropractor told her she needed to try yoga to rehabilitate her body.
“I was like, ‘No, no, I don’t do yoga. I do martial arts,’” Larkin said. “I thought I was too tough for yoga, and then she said just go try this class, and it turned out it was harder than any sparring session I’d ever been to.”
She said she fell in love with yoga, got her certification and started teaching it in 1999. She’s stuck with it since then and said the practice helped her heal after she was involved in two officer-involved shootings in the same year. One of the two was deadly.
It was April 1, 2004, and Larkin said she and her partner were at the Eureka Hotel for an unrelated incident when someone came running out of a restaurant saying a bartender had been shot. She and her partner went looking for the suspect, and Larkin heard gunshots.
By the time she came around the side of the building, Larkin said, she couldn’t see her partner and assumed he’d been killed. She fired at the suspect, he went down, and she found her partner safe, watching her back.
It was later determined that Larkin’s shots didn’t hit the suspect, and that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified, but the experience was still traumatic, and she said she’s not sure she would have made it through without yoga as an outlet.
“It saved my life,” she said. “On nights that I couldn’t sleep or didn’t understand the process that your mind goes through when it has a traumatic event, I was really blessed to be in a space where I had a teacher that could guide me and help me really understand what the brain and the heart go through when trying to digest such trauma.”
Templeton, who met Larkin at a yoga retreat, said the two became fast friends, bonding over the weight of their jobs. Templeton is a psychotherapist and said yoga has been an important outlet for her as well.
“We both have jobs that are focused in service to others but deal with some of the most difficult things in life,” she said. “Yoga really helped us learn to find the balance you need to deal with that.”
A selfless leader
Now Larkin helps others going through similar struggles. Tavarez said a crisis intervention officer was recently involved in a shooting, and Larkin has helped him heal from and work through it.
“She’s huge on ensuring that the hardships that she’s had to deal with throughout her career, the tough things that she’s had to deal with, she does everything she can to make them easier when someone around her goes through them,” Tavarez said.
Tavarez said Larkin genuinely cares about the people around her and checks in with everyone, making sure they’re taking care of themselves.
“She ensures she’s there for you even if it’s just an ear, and if she can’t help, she’ll find somebody that can,” Tavarez said. “She’ll make sure you get whatever you need to get through it and come out on the other end.”
During her 21 years at Metro, she’s garnered a reputation for bringing people together, strengthening communities and never forgetting a special date.
“I have access to her calendar, and it is full of people’s birthdays, anniversary dates, special events that happen in their lives,” Given said. “She would remember anyway, most likely, but she goes out of her way to make those special days special.”
Given, who has worked with Larkin throughout her career at Metro, said he can’t count the number of handwritten cards he’s received from her, whether for holidays or just because.
Tavarez said the Summerlin Area Command has provided her with her first opportunity to work directly with Larkin. Though it required a bit of a pay cut and a longer commute, she said she didn’t think twice about jumping at the opportunity because, “Who wouldn’t want to work for someone like that?”
She compared Larkin’s reputation to Cher’s.
“In Metro if you say Sasha, you don’t have to say Larkin. Everyone already knows who you’re talking about,” Tavarez said. “She’s made such a big impact, she doesn’t even need a last name.”