2008-05-01 / Front Page

Fright inspired Jamestown officer

By Sam Bari

Sgt. Keith Woodbine Sgt. Keith Woodbine Sgt. Keith Woodbine, 47, has been with the Jamestown Police Department for nearly 18 years. He is a Rhode Island native who has lived in Warwick all his life.

"I thought about the military when I was younger, but it didn't appeal to me as much as being a policeman. I love my job; it's really all I ever wanted to do," Woodbine said.

The son of an IBM engineer, Woodbine has five siblings. "I have a twin sister who is two minutes older than me, but we're the middle two. We have an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister. Growing up in a big family was great."

He speaks of his formative years fondly as he reminisces about summers spent searching for the best Rhode Island surf and winters on ski slopes throughout New England. He also played football at Bishop Hendricken, where he graduated from high school. After graduation, Woodbine attended Rhode Island College where he majored in sociology and psychology.

Woodbine remembers the day he made the decision to become a police officer. He says he will nev- er forget it. "During the late 1970s and early '80s my older brother and I worked as busboys at a place called Lee's Cathay Terrace in Warwick. We were going to high school and college at the time. I don't think the place is there any more," he said.

"The chef was kind of an interesting guy. He was in his midto late 40s and everybody called him Master Chen because he was a master of the martial arts. And, he was good too. He taught my brother and I quite a few things. Besides being interesting, he was also kind of odd. In 1979, he was the center of an incident that made national news and my brother and I were involved.

"One day Master Chen came to work, and as he walked through the kitchen he pulled out a 12- gauge shotgun. Then he went into the bar area and shot the bartender and one of the waitresses. My brother and I dove for cover and hid as best we could. While we were hiding, Chen shot and killed five people in all.

"At some point, I asked my brother if he thought we should take him- you know, tackle him. I think Chen was in the other part of the restaurant at the time. If he would have turned in our direction and seen us, I'm sure he would have shot us, too. My brother just said, 'No way! We're outta here!' And we took off running. I don't know why I considered tackling him. Even if he didn't use the shotgun, he could have easily killed both of us.

"Anyway, we ran outside and hoped the police would come. We didn't even know if anybody had called them. Everyone was so scared. All of this happened really fast. Although it seemed like a long time because we were so scared, hardly any time had gone by at all. The police showed up less than a minute later. And they arrived in force with their guns drawn.

"People who could, ran outside into the waiting arms of policemen who took them to safety. While that was going on, the others went in and took the guy down right away. I'll never forget the look on the faces of those terrified people when the police showed up. There's no way to adequately describe the relief they felt when they were rescued.

"A couple of the women just hugged the policemen helping them and sobbed as they hung on as if their lives depended on it. I guess it did. If the police hadn't come when they did, a lot more people could have been killed.

"The thing I remember most is the policemen arriving at the scene and helping those who needed assistance. They didn't give it a second thought. They weren't afraid at all. They just did what needed to be done without worrying about the danger. At least it looked that way. And the people were so grateful. I knew then, that's what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to help people like they did."

Woodbine still remembers the tragic incident as if it happened yesterday. Nonetheless, it inspired him to become a police officer and to dedicate his life to helping those in need.

He talked for a minute about his duties, and how he gets satisfaction from his work. "Nobody likes to respond to domestic disturbances," he said. "It's a very gray area and we never know what to expect. But when I go, and I see two people fighting, and yelling and screaming at each other, I know it's mostly frustration.

"I try to intervene and get them to calm down. Then we talk about what really has them so upset. Most of the time, they quickly realize that fighting is a silly thing to do, and doesn't accomplish or solve anything. If I can help them make up and consider how valuable their relationship is, and walk away knowing that they'll make an effort to work out their problems without fighting, then I've had a good day," he said.

"It disturbs me when people have a negative opinion of policemen," Woodbine said. "I try to instill in our younger officers that we are here to keep the peace. Anytime we can respond to an incident and end things peacefully, we're doing our job. People should not fear that they're going to be arrested or hurt whenever we're called.

"I've seen some of the biggest, meanest guys become very humble and tears well up in their eyes because an officer took the time to talk to them about the direction their life was going. Just showing a little compassion can be all that is needed to turn someone's life around who is a little misguided," he said.

When he isn't at work, Woodbine's family is his life. "My wife Danielle and I have been married for 14 years," he said. "We have four sons, and I couldn't be happier. During the summer, we go to the Bonnet Shores Beach Club. The rest of the year I turn into a hockey dad. The boys are doing so well with their hockey, I try not to distract them. I still have a surfboard, but I haven't been on a wave in a few years," he said.

Woodbine said that he and his brother started a driveway sealing business. "We call it the Woodbine Brothers," he said. "I haven't decided whether to retire after 20 years or go for 25. We'll see what happens. It will be a family decision. The boys are older now, so my wife started a concierge business that serves the business community and the elderly. I'm not worried about our future. My job is pretty much recession proof."

"I like going to work every day," Woodbine said. "The department is well managed; the leadership is experienced and knowledgeable. Everybody in the department works well together. I couldn't ask for more."

Woodbine joined the police department and went to the Rhode Island Police Academy in 1990. Chief James Pemantell hired him. Woodbine continued his education after he was hired. He attended Roger Williams University and received a degree in criminal justice in 1998.

Sgt. Woodbine and his wife have a house in Warwick where they live with their four sons, Kelsey, 12, Nicholas, 11, Jacob, 6, and Andrew, 5, who are proud of their dad, the policeman.

Return to top