Rhode Island’s first female police chief discusses her job
Rhode Island’s first female police chief, Lt. Angela M. Deneault, will become the interim chief of the Jamestown Police Department on Friday, July 1. The announcement, which was made by the Town Council on June 20, garnered local, state and regional media attention and perhaps, more importantly, shone a bright light on a hardworking, well-credentialed 17-year veteran of the Police Department.
The interim chief, who has been a lieutenant and the Number Two in the department for almost a year, graduated from New Bedford High School and Salve Regina University. She knew from the start of college that she wanted to pursue a career in administrative justice, but at the time she was not planning on becoming a police offi cer.
Part of her freshman year experience included taking an introductory course in administrative justice and meeting her future mentor, Dr. Lois Wims. A retired Central Falls police officer, Wims had earned a PhD and become a professor at Salve Regina University.
Deneault said that Wims taught her what it means to be professional police. She learned that professional women and men of intelligence and integrity have a place in modern policing. “She really got me into and interested in police work,” Deneault said.
The lieutenant explained that 21 years old is too young to make a career choice, but in her case, she is happy that she got it right. She said that she remembers looking to make a career choice and thought, “If I could find a job where I could make a contribution, big or small to the world, to do something that will impact people’s lives in a positive way, wow, what’s better than that.”
She explained that former Jamestown police officer Bill Piva, now the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, was sitting in class with Deneault as a part-time student and announced that there were openings at JPD. Deneault said that initially she applied “just for the experience of it.” Although her parents were not big fans of the idea, Deneault said, “I’ve never looked back.”
Seventeen years later, Deneault has “aspirations” to be a chief of police one day, but she didn’t apply for the chief’s position this year.
“The timing wasn’t right this time around,” she said. She added that Chief Thomas Tighe was a terrific boss and teacher and taught her a great deal. She also looks forward to learning from the next chief as someone with a unique background and a unique set of professional experiences.
A leader in her own right, Deneault has some ideas about building community. Citing a portion of the department’s mission statement, she said one of her goals is to create “a proactive partnership with the residents of the town of Jamestown that best serve the needs of the community.”
“I am not sure that we are doing everything that we can be doing to create those partnerships with the townspeople,” she said. She added that a program like Countdown 2 Drive from Safe Kids USA, which targets 13- and 14-year-olds, includes parents and fosters positive decision-making and helps to promote proactive relationships.
Deneault is also exploring a program that would offer a voluntary check-in program for the elderly. Should a registrant fail to make a regularly scheduled call, the dispatcher would make a call to their home and in the absence of an answer would dispatch an offi- cer. Deneault explained that smaller departments around the country are engaged in similar programs that benefit townspeople and nurture an understanding of modern police as community problem solvers committed to ensuring the safety of a town’s residents.
No doubt ready to be interim chief, Deneault already has a responsibilities list that is quite full. It includes patrol command, internal affairs, public information offi cer, child passenger safety and traffic court prosecution. She has received specific medical training, which is required in the case of an epidemic outbreak, and has received instruction in conducting background investigations. “Which we do on any potential police candidate,” she said.
In addition, she was trained and served as the department’s DARE officer for eight years from 1994 to 2002.
As patrol commander, she said that her biggest job was to make sure officers are on the streets when they should be. “I supervise the sergeants. They are responsible for their shifts and they answer to me. I make sure that their shifts are running the way they should.”
There are currently14 patrol offi cers with the department, including Deneault and Tighe.
Deneault explained that part of her job as patrol commander is to provide customer service for the townspeople. She listens to concerns and conveys those concerns to sergeants so that issues can be addressed on the streets and in the neighborhoods. She said that supporters of the department are often vocal as are the “dissatisfied customers” in town, but she said that one of her goals is to make sure that the vast majority of the people in the middle are also being heard.
Deneault was trained in internal affairs in 2007. She said that type of work has her “investigating allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the employees.” She said that the Police Department’s annual report lists the year-to-year statistics for those investigations, but added that the range is two to four per year, resulting most often from disgruntled individuals who may have been investigated, cleared, but remained upset.
Traffic court prosecution is the last of the formal list of the lieutenant’s duties. In this role, Deneault attends weekly traffic court on Friday mornings in Wakefield. She represents the department. Citizens choosing to contest a ticket will have an arraignment date on their tickets. If they choose to appear and contest the ticket they will be given a court date and Deneault in turn will return to Jamestown and schedule the ticketing officer to appear.
Deneault explained that she has served as acting police chief in the past during Tighe’s vacations and will do so even before July 1, as the chief wraps up his tenure.
Forty-four years with the department, and chief since 1992, the town expressed its appreciation for his years of service and outstanding performance at a retirement party held in honor of Tighe recently.
Asked if her professional life spills over into her personal life, Deneault was clear that as a patrol officer there is a certain parallel definition between the job and the shift, but as one takes on additional responsibilities, the end of a shift is no longer the end of the day.
Deneault and her husband William, a member of the Rhode Island Sherriff’s Department who serves at the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence, have two children, Benjamin, 8, and Avery, 6, and live in Tiverton. As schedules allow, she and her family enjoy warm summer days at the Tiverton Town Beach.