The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership

TCD: Chief Anthony Pesare, Middletown, RI Police Department

May 29, 2023 Chief Anthony Pesare Season 5 Episode 102
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
TCD: Chief Anthony Pesare, Middletown, RI Police Department
Show Notes Transcript

Season 5 - Episode 102 - The CopDoc Podcast

What does it take to become a leader in the world of law enforcement, and how can you apply those lessons to your own life? Join me as I sit down with Police Chief Anthony Pesare of Middletown, Rhode Island, to talk about his extraordinary journey from an officer in the Rhode Island State Police to a lawyer, Dean of the School of Justice Studies at Roger Williams University, and author of the fictionalized autobiography, They Always Win.

Chief Pesare shares valuable insights into his approach to leadership and community policing, drawing upon his extensive experience both in law enforcement and academia. Listen in as we discuss his passion for fostering relationships within the community, creating a culture of strict law enforcement and community policing in Middletown, and the successes they've achieved in this area. You'll also hear about the significance of mental health calls and how the police department has adapted their response and training to better serve the community.

He taught at Salve Regina University and Roger Williams University, being selected as the Dean of the School of Justice Studies at RWU.   After several years, Tony missed policing and became the Chief of Police with MPD.  After 14 years, he retired and served as an Assistant Solicitor and Prosecutor for the town.  Last year, Tony was asked to return as chief of the MPD.  

Don't miss this powerful conversation with one of law enforcement's most dedicated leaders. You'll walk away with a deeper understanding of the role of leadership in promoting officer wellness and community policing, and perhaps even some inspiration to apply these lessons to your own life. There's never a dull moment in this insightful and thought-provoking episode, so tune in now!

Contact us:


If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at

[00:00:02.450] - Intro

Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia, and other government agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.


[00:00:32.570] - Steve Morreale

Hello again, everybody. Steve Morreale coming to you from Boston, Massachusetts today, and we have the opportunity to scoot down to Rhode Island, a state that borders Massachusetts along the water, a beautiful state. We have Anthony Pesare, the police chief in Middletown, Rhode Island. On Aquidneck island. Good morning to you.


[00:00:50.080] - Anthony Pesare

Good morning, Steve. Thank you very much for inviting me.


[00:00:52.520] - Steve Morreale

Appreciate it. I want to talk about all things policing, and you have such a storied history, Anthony, and I want to give the listeners a little bit of a background and you can fill in. You were with the Rhode Island State Police rising to major and had field operations and spent 24 years. You went back to school during that period of time, I know, and went to New England School of Law, became a lawyer and had been teaching and became the dean of the School of Justice Studies at Roger Williams University. You did that for several years. Great program of which I'm affiliated. But more importantly, you said, I think I want to get back to policing, and became the police chief of Middletown. You've done that. You went away to become a solicitor and prosecutor, and you're back again. So what the hell are you thinking, Tony?


[00:01:38.110] - Anthony Pesare

Many people have asked me the same thing. I just have a love of policing, which I seem to not be able to get out of my system. And as you said, I was here for 14 years, but previous chief decided he wanted to move on. After five years, almost five years, the town asked me to come back, and I was happy to do it and didn't realize how much I had missed it till I got back here. So I enjoy the police environment. It's challenging, especially today, but I think one of the things I bring is, as you said, the experience of having policed in the, which makes me one of those old dinosaurs. But I think that kind of experience is helpful with young people who are coming into law enforcement. And I like to think that they could come in here and speak to me. And there's probably not many cases or not many situations that I haven't been involved in. Obviously, in policing, sometimes you come out across something that you would never expect to, and that happens. But the strange part was my family strongly encouraged me to come back, which I thought was refreshing.


[00:02:41.150] - Steve Morreale

Well, you must have missed it, and they must have sensed that they did.


[00:02:44.050] - Anthony Pesare

They said even though I was prosecuting cases, I was sort of like lost. I was bouncing from one thing to the other, and it's just my nature to be busy all the time, and I guess I was, like, lost. So now I have direction. I get up every morning. I'm happy to come to work. I don't expect to spend another 14 years here, but I'm going to stay here for a while, and I'm going to enjoy it. When it stops being fun or when I feel it's time, I'll step off.


[00:03:07.600] - Steve Morreale

Well, you know, Tony, I don't know that it's fun all of the time, and I know you would agree with me on that, but what I think may be the driving factor is for you to have an influence over others. And for me, that's a sign of true leadership, and I want to talk about that. So let me go back a little bit in time. When we were off camera a few moments ago, I was talking about a book that you wrote, and we're talking to Tony Pesare, the chief of Middletown, Rhode Island. He wrote a book back in 2011. They always win. And I'll let you explain it, but you also told me that there is a successor in the work. So talk about that book and why you would have taken the time to write. I know you hate writing reports. Why did you write a novel?


[00:03:49.250] - Anthony Pesare

It's interesting. So when I hired from the state police and I was working at Roger Williams, I had always thought about a case that I worked on with many, many others in the intelligence unit where we were investigating the Patriaca crime family. And one cell of the crime family was led by an individual named Frank Bobo. Marapisi and his crew was responsible for many, many crimes, including fascination of a maid, member of organized crime. So I thought about doing a true crime novel, but I too lazy to do all the research and all that would be required of it, so I decided to fictionalize it. And so what I did is I took my background and my story and melded it with these three witnesses who we had full time custody of and protected and from living with them, so to speak, and learning from them. I took all of that together and wrote they Always Win. So it's kind of autobiography, but it's also fictionalized. So I used a lot of the experiences I had as a young man growing up in the Civil League section of Providence was predominantly Italian. And seeing and being around these individuals who always had the car, they always had the money, they always had the flashy clothes, and it's very tempting for a young person to see that.


[00:05:07.430] - Anthony Pesare

I had a strong family, so I was able to resist that, get away, go to college and that sort of thing. So it kind of was like a catharsis for me to tell that story. And as you said, it was published a while ago and kind of like, never thought about writing a second one. Talking to a friend of mine, Vince Petronio, he said, have you thought about.


[00:05:26.330] - Steve Morreale

I remember Vince, yes.


[00:05:29.690] - Anthony Pesare

What do they say? Ride or die friend? We've been friends over 50 years, and we have a great relationship. But he asked me if I had done anything with the second book. I said no, I haven't. He said, Well, I just read an article about John Grisham, and Grisham is dedicated to writing at least one page a day. So he said, Why don't you try that? So I wrote one page, and then that became two pages, and then it just sort of took off from there. And I work with a great individual. Stu Horowitz from Book Architecture. And so now he helps you to formulate the book, reads it, edits it, and make suggestions. So he has it. Now, that'll take probably about three to four weeks, and then we'll go from there with trying to get it published. Do you have a new title, tentatively titled Geno's Story. Now, I had a tentative title when I worked with Stu the last time, and he came up with They Always Win. So I'll wait to hear from him.


[00:06:20.330] - Steve Morreale

That's good. A little humility and let somebody else help you. Well, it's interesting because it seems like you get to take some artistic license about what happened and kind of develop it. I'll be very interested in reading it, so I look forward to that. Thank you. Thank you. I want to know, if you were to put your thumb on your leadership style, what would you think it was most like?


[00:06:39.840] - Anthony Pesare

I think it's most like Colin Powell said it best that if the people you're leading, if they're afraid to bring you their problems, or if they're not afraid of embarrassing you, then you're not a good leader. So I've tried to develop that as my leadership style. Now, some people would say I'm a benevolent dictator, but that's my leadership style.


[00:07:01.840] - Steve Morreale

When you have to be, I suppose, right?


[00:07:03.660] - Anthony Pesare

Yeah, there's some truth to that. But I remember Colonel Culhane telling me that leadership and compassion are not mutually exclusive. So I think you can be a strong leader and you can also be compassionate. And I've tried to embrace that. There are times where this, as you know, law enforcement, where you have to treat people and need them. Some people need a hug, and some people might need a kick in the butt, and it just depends. And I think one of the things a leader is required to do is to learn what motivates their personnel, what drives their personnel, what works with them in regard to completing the mission of law enforcement. So I come from an era where you were told what to do, and you just did it, and then you were told what you had to do and explained why, and then we went to you have to do it this is why and this is why it's good for you. Now you have to do it. This is why this is why it's good for you, and this is why it's part of the mission that you want to accomplish as a police officer.


[00:08:06.500] - Steve Morreale

It's almost like you're framing the concept for people to understand where it fits into the big picture. And so that means it's about communication. It sounds to me like your approach may very well be a derivative of situational leadership, depending on where people are on the spectrum, who is interested or willing to do the job but not ready for the job. So that takes a little bit of specialty. Or who is ready for the job but not willing, and they've lost their way. I want to ask this question. So your stop along the way in between the Rhode Island State Police, where you were one of the top leaders to coming to academia, what kind of adjustments did that take?


[00:08:43.340] - Anthony Pesare

A lot of adjustments. And I often say that I'm glad I had that stop in between law enforcement jobs because I think it made me a better chief when I came here. I think I was more contemplative. I think I was more willing to slow the pace of my decision making.


[00:09:01.370] - Steve Morreale

On the other I don't mean to interrupt you, but that happens on campus. We're talking about things over and over and over again, and you're a kind of a can do guy. Those of us who have been doing like, wait a minute, we've been talking about this for a year and a half. I'm sure that frustrated you, but it slowed you down.


[00:09:16.100] - Anthony Pesare

Absolutely. And I remember being at meetings where people would argue about whether we use the word there that or which. And I'm like, oh, my God, it's like 330 in a Friday afternoon, and this is what we're arguing about. So, yeah, that was frustrating. It's just a different culture, as you know, Steven, and one I was not familiar with, or it got to the point where I wasn't comfortable in it. But the people that I worked with, the teachers, were marvelous, but I was an administrator, obviously, but I did teach, so I cherished that. But it just got to the point where I was frustrated by the culture. And it wasn't the culture's fault. I guess it was my fault, and I decided to move on and come to the Middletown Police Department.


[00:09:53.830] - Steve Morreale

Tell us about Middletown. Tell us about where it is. I know it's right next to Newport, but how big it is and what kind of a culture you have created for the department.


[00:10:03.190] - Anthony Pesare

As you said, Newport is a destination city for people all around the world. So we have tourists during the summer, many of which have come to Newport. But a majority of the hotel space on Aquidneck Island or on an island is in Middletown. So on Aquidneck Island, we have three police departments. The northern part of the Aquidneck Island is policed by the Portsmouth police department. We're in the middle, hence Middletown. And Newport is a city, and it has a city police department. Interestingly enough, we have a lot of agricultural area in Middletown. We have beautiful beaches that are on Aquidneck Island facing Narragansett Bay. There are about 16,000 people in population in Middletown. I have presently 40 officers that serve the department and five civilians. And one of the things that I like about living on Aquidneck Island is we have a very strong navy presence.


[00:10:57.020] - Steve Morreale



[00:10:57.400] - Anthony Pesare

So Aquidneck Island is much different than the mainland. And I've lived on the mainland most of my life. It's more of an international city, international way of life. I think we're more accepting of people because we do have so many cultures. We have a naval war college, which brings naval officers from all over the world.


[00:11:15.420] - Steve Morreale



[00:11:15.740] - Anthony Pesare

So in building the police department, I wanted to develop a culture that was a combination of strict law enforcement, but balanced by community policing. And one of the things I did to foster that culture was to give every police officer on the department what I call a community policing assignment. So each officer, no matter how much time they have on the job, is assigned, let's say, to the senior center. And that office is the liaison between the senior center and the police department. So I have someone in all the schools, I have someone with the business community, with the religious community, housing complexes. And I think as a result of that, and I ask every candidate for this job, are they willing to embrace that philosophy? And then, of course, they all say yes, because they want the job. Yes, but it's been wildly successful. I would say. In fact, we were lucky when I was here my first stint to win an award in community policing from the New England Association of Chiefs of police for the innovation of that community policing program. And my officers have embraced it. I think for them, it gives them the opportunity to sort of get away from the grind of patrol, arrest, traffic violations, domestic assaults, and just sort of take a break and sit down with the seniors and speak to them or go into a school and read a book.


[00:12:30.500] - Anthony Pesare

And so I think the philosophy that I've tried to build is that's the foundation and then I've also found in my career that if you build a group of individuals that have that motivation, then you're always going to have negative people. In law enforcement, it's just a negative profession because of who you're dealing with. Sometimes you see people on their worst day of their lives, you see them when they're in accidents, you give them speeding tickets. Nobody likes that, and it can be very negative. And so as a young police officer, or any police officer, if you buy into that negativity, it's going to drag you down. And there's no way of getting around that except to be involved in the community and embrace that kind of mission. And there's no way to change a negative police officer's attitude if that's what they're brought up with, if that's what they've lived through for their career to whatever point it is. And those are the people, unfortunately, that at the end of their careers are bitter and wonder why they never advanced in their careers. And I think if you buy into the negativity, you won't have a good career.


[00:13:28.380] - Steve Morreale

Yeah, it can be cancer. Let me interrupt. Here's what I'm hearing you say. This is fascinating. I do an awful lot. As you know, I work for you for a while over at Justice System Training and Research Institute at Roger Williams University. And I have to say that I'm constantly asking the question of sergeants especially to ask whether or not they believe that their agency or the group of people responsible are customer service oriented. And I don't see a lot of hands raised, but it sounds to me like that's exactly what you're trying to do. But I will say this by doing what you're doing, assigning people to liaison situations where they're talking to people that are not under duress or stress, they're actually learning that there are people that A, support them, and B, are nice at their root. And I think that changes their perspective, which is exactly what it seems you're doing. I'm seeing you shake your head, talk about that.


[00:14:20.580] - Anthony Pesare

Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit the nail right on the head that and also relationships are built. So what I say to my office is, if I have to walk into the senior center, I want you there with me, and I want you to say, this is the director. And that makes my job easier, but it makes relationships that are lasting. I have an officer who retired who had the senior center as her assignment. She still goes back there. She participates in bake sales and playing bingo, and the seniors love it. But that's just an example of, as you said, it's a break from what we normally do day in and day out. And it's just as good for the officer as you say as it is for the community. So, as I said, I've asked everybody to embrace it. Most people do and some don't. But you can't get away from that.


[00:15:06.120] - Steve Morreale

No, I understand. So here's what I heard. What I heard a long time ago is that when Chief Pesare came to Middletown, one of the first things he did was sit with everybody and chat. You didn't come in there. I'm sure they were petrified. Uhoh, here comes the trooper. You understand, it's that mentality of top down and the troopers are better than us and this folklore, but that you took your time, in essence, to listen and to get to know people. Is that true? And if so, how did that work?


[00:15:35.520] - Anthony Pesare

Yes, it is true. My mindset coming here and again, I think this has a lot to do with being at the university and contemplating things, researching things, thinking about them. My attitude was to come in and not do what you said is try to run this department like a barrack because they're not the same. So I thought the best way would be to solicit input. And I started with the civilians, Stephen, because the civilians on any police department know more about what's going on in the police department than some of the officers do. And also, I think sometimes leaders don't give the respect to the civilian employees that they deserve. So I started with the civilians and then I spoke to each officer and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they all, for the most part, wanted to do a good job, that they needed training, they needed support, and they wanted to get better at their job. So I took that and started my management of this police department, not abandoning what I learned in the state police, because what the state police do and how they police works. And I used that for our law enforcement arm.


[00:16:39.130] - Anthony Pesare

But the community policing arm came as a result of speaking to my offices. And in any small police department, we're small, 40 people. It's difficult to keep people engaged because there are only so many ranks, there's only so many outside opportunities. So having at all in mind, I thought maybe that third peg on the stool would be the community policing involvement. So, yeah, I did take a long time to interview everyone. I think they were expecting something different. There's two ways of doing it, right? You shake the tree and you blow it up and you start all over again. My goal was to slowly implement the changes and it all starts with the offices that you hire. I was lucky enough because there were so many offices that were injured on duty or were off for some reason. We resolved all of those issues and we had space to hire. So I was able to hire offices. Many, almost all of the offices that I have here, I've hired or promoted. And that was the way to build culture, was to bring on police officers that have the same mindset, that embraced the culture of enforcement and of community policing.


[00:17:42.190] - Anthony Pesare

So I was able to get to the point where I had so many people who embraced that philosophy than anyone else, was sort of marginalized. So that's the way it came about.


[00:17:51.080] - Steve Morreale

Well, that triggered just a thought in my mind. You use the word enforcement and to some people they may think that that's sort of heavy handed, and I know that's not what you mean, but talk about the discussions that you have, as I've had with people who've worked for me about the importance of good judgment and discretion.


[00:18:08.230] - Anthony Pesare

I think discretion is the largest tool any police officer has, and they must be allowed to use that discretion. And it's interesting that someone who's young, 21, 22, gets in their cruiser and goes out after sufficient training, but is essentially their own boss and makes decisions. And so I ask that our officers use discretion. We hand out traffic tickets like everybody else, but a majority of what we hand out is warnings, because I think part of traffic enforcement and stopping cars is education. So I ask that they use their discretion, and also I ask them to use their discretion in an ethical manner, because what's legal might not always be what's ethical. And so I asked them to take that into consideration with every traffic stop, with every response to a disturbance, with every arrest, and hopefully that discretion that they use is used to the benefit of the community and themselves.


[00:19:02.720] - Steve Morreale

I'm glad I asked that question because I think that sort of tamps down the feeling that might be that our job is to stop cars and make arrests and write tickets. And that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, you see a lot of agencies saying, get away from car stops. I don't think that's a smart thing. By the same token, not all car stops and I like the educational piece not all car stops have to end up in a negative situation.


[00:19:25.910] - Anthony Pesare

But you have to acknowledge that traffic enforcement has a direct correlation to the number of accidents you have in your community, the number of fatalities and the number of serious injuries. So we always have that in mind because we're lucky in that we don't have we do, of course, but we don't have the number of severe accidents and fatalities that I think you would expect in a community of this size, especially in the summer when the population swells. So our DUI enforcement is really, I feel, very aggressive in that regard, and so we should never disregard that. But also, as you said, discretion is a way of educating the public, but also showing the public that we're out. We're concerned about safety when people travel in our community. On the other hand, we're not here to punish people. We're here to educate them if we can.


[00:20:15.600] - Steve Morreale

You take me back to a story again that I heard, and you mentioned Ed Culhane, who was the former colonel after many years with Colonel Stone, and he had come from New York, and I think you were there sitting in chairs when he came along. Is that correct?


[00:20:29.120] - Anthony Pesare

Well, strangely enough, when the colonel took over, I was a corporal, and I went from corporal to major in about four years.


[00:20:38.040] - Steve Morreale

Yes. Okay, so you understand and that's interesting because I think you witnessed firsthand a complete change in approach.


[00:20:45.590] - Anthony Pesare

Absolutely. The state police needed a breath of fresh air, and Ed Cullhane opened the window. He brought us from the style of policing of the 50s right into the 20th century. He was an innovator, he was intelligent, he was funny, he was compassionate. And I learned so much about leadership from him. And it was exactly what the state policing.


[00:21:05.890] - Steve Morreale

Well, I remember a story, and I'd like to hear it from your perspective of him looking at data and realizing that the little state of Rhode Island was the last on the list for DUI enforcement. And were you in a meeting when that was discussed?


[00:21:20.710] - Anthony Pesare

No, I was not.


[00:21:21.530] - Steve Morreale

Okay, so how did that float down where he was going to say, we need to do more of these, we're the state police.


[00:21:28.070] - Anthony Pesare

Right? So I was in detectives at the time when he took over, but came down from the chain of command was colonel's priority, was a DUI enforcement, that there were too many fatalities on the highways. And so that became a priority. And so then suddenly we turned our attention to DUI enforcement. And I'll tell you a story about Ed Culhane and his leadership. One day I was assistant Detective commander, lieutenant, and he came by my office, he had a pile of files, it was about this thick. He dumped them on my desk and he said, lieutenant, there are over 3000 outstanding warrants in the state of Rhode Island and nobody's doing anything about it. He said, do something. And he walked away. So from that we started a warrant squad, which became a task force to apprehend violent fugitives and is now, as a result of the work of Steve Lynch, who's now the chief in Burrillville, has become one of the most stellar organizations in the state for taking violent fugitives off of the streets. And that's all because of Ed Culhane.


[00:22:28.810] - Steve Morreale

That's interesting because I just wrote down part of what he was doing was saying, let's celebrate what we want to see more of. Let's give some awards to the people who are doing some of them, even if it's a very, very low level. And all of a sudden Pavlov’s Dog will say, is that what he wants? We can give him that. Right. So what you just demonstrated, though, in him coming in and sort of dumping this on you and then giving you basically little guidance just to say, do something about it, I'm presuming because it's happened to me, I'm presuming that that did for you and your people. Uh oh, the boss wants something done, but, uh oh, we've got to figure this out together.


[00:23:04.890] - Anthony Pesare



[00:23:05.400] - Steve Morreale

I mean, that is a great use of intellect and of creativity. And so those lessons, how do you bring them to Middletown?


[00:23:12.970] - Anthony Pesare

The same thing. So people are not reluctant, but they have great ideas and I encourage them to come in. But oftentimes people will say, you know what we should do, Chief x, Y and Z. And I say to them, it's a good idea. Why don't you put something together and bring it back to me. Now, nine out of ten times they will, but occasionally I never see them again in the way that you sort of seek out that talent. And I learned this from Ed Culhane. One day, somebody put a letter on my desk. They said, the colonel wants you to write a response to this. And I'm like, Why am I writing letters from the colonel? I don't get it. Now I get it. He was judging, testing the waters, as he used to tell me, to find out who could write. How good is that letter to come? What kind of a communicator is this person? So I kind of do the same thing here. If I see something that comes in that I can respond to and I respond to ten times, I'll give it to someone else to see how they handle it.


[00:24:03.710] - Anthony Pesare

These are all things that taken a lifetime to learn, but I wouldn't be where I am or who I am if it wasn't for Ed.


[00:24:10.210] - Steve Morreale

Colleen, that's good to hear. Okay. We're talking to Anthony Pesare. He's the chief of police in Middletown, Rhode Island. And we've been talking about leadership and policing and community policing and academics and such. And I want to ask a question about your command staff, for example, and your meetings. I know as you rose through the ranks, you had some top down meetings that you attended where you were told what to do, and you weren't given a chance to say anything, and out the door the boss went, this is a different world. Tony, and I'd be curious to know how you run your meeting. Do you engage others? Do you ask questions? Do you plant seeds? Tell us your approach.


[00:24:50.350] - Anthony Pesare

Right now, I have a command staff meeting every other month. I found that having them every month was counterproductive, because what I like to do is I have every commander who runs a shift those are lieutenants, and a lieutenant who runs detective prepare a report about activities of the previous two months. Those are handed into me. I review them before the meeting, and then I start off by going over some of the things I'd like to emphasize. And then we go around the room, and each lieutenant has the opportunity to talk about his shift, what happened that was outstanding. We talk about schools they might have attended, outstanding arrests. And then I ask, what is it that you need? What do you need? And I get responses like, it would be really great if we could start the early shift an hour earlier, or something like that. And then we all talk about it. So we go around the table that way. And then my second in command captain, if he has anything he wants to add, he adds it. And then I usually end the meeting by saying, okay, guys, gals, what's going on?


[00:25:51.040] - Anthony Pesare

Tell me what's going on. Speak truth to. Power. I can't change anything or help you unless I know what's going on. And then we've had some very frank discussions, especially with the change of administration. Things have changed, and we've had some really frank discussions. So I think the change in meetings is being a good listener and allowing people. I found that people just want an answer, but just to be heard and answered means the world to almost everyone, right? No one wants to be ignored. And you don't want someone out in the wilderness just saying, wow, I want to know this, I want to know that. And I keep asking, no one tells me the answer. So I like to make sure that all my commanders and all my offices who are free to come in here and speak to me, at least leave here with an answer. And so in those frank discussions, I learn about someone who might be having an emotional problem, someone who might need to be sent to a school because they have an interest in that area. And so I find them to be very productive. They never last more than an hour and a half, 2 hours at most.


[00:26:49.110] - Anthony Pesare

And I think everyone goes away with at least having had the opportunity to say what they want to say.


[00:26:53.700] - Steve Morreale

Let's maybe go back to when you first came here, presuming that you took over the Middletown Police Department from, I'm assuming, an old time chief with maybe more autocratic ways or top down ways. Is that a fair assessment?


[00:27:10.230] - Anthony Pesare

Well, yes and no. So the chief before me was Chief Burns. Chief Burns was a Newport Police officer, and he was hired, and he was here ten years before I got here.


[00:27:21.150] - Steve Morreale



[00:27:21.460] - Anthony Pesare

And before him was Chief Robert Gibson, who was of that old world style.


[00:27:27.540] - Steve Morreale

Yeah, that's how we were raised. I understand.


[00:27:29.140] - Anthony Pesare



[00:27:29.650] - Steve Morreale

It's not a bad thing, but that's what we did.


[00:27:31.470] - Anthony Pesare

Right. That's the way I was raised. And he was sort of a disciple and friend of Colonel Stone, and they had the same management style. So I took over for Chief Burns after his ten years. He was a good leader, but I think that he was handcuffed by resources, didn't have the resources he needed. They were still in a very old building, which was a converted DPW garage. It was probably the most when I walked to the station after I got the job, I was appalled by what I saw. And Middletown hadn't built a new building since probably 1960, which was an addition to the police department, which really didn't make sense. It was just flopped on the side of the building. So that's what I inherited when I took over. So I can't speak much to his management style because I didn't learn much about it in my conversations with people.


[00:28:16.640] - Steve Morreale

But what I'm trying to wonder is, when the people were around the table, were they used to speaking out or talking or did you have to encourage that? Because sometimes you walk in and you say, I'm not looking for silent partners here, I'm looking for your point of view. You're in that job because this is my expectation. So setting expectations becomes important. Did you see yourself having to do that over time to say, guys, gals, I don't want you to be quiet?


[00:28:42.320] - Anthony Pesare

Oh yeah, absolutely. Because in order to get any kind of change, as I said, I need to know what the problems are. I mean, I knew systemically what the problems are, but only by talking to the officers and making it clear during staff meetings that they were free to tell me was I able to accomplish what we accomplished in those 14 years, which included building a new police station. But I think the point is that the officers really wanted to speak, they really wanted the command staff wanted to tell me what we needed to change in the police department to become better. And was only through soliciting that response. And it was almost like when someone's given permission to speak, everything that's been building up inside of them just comes out. And so that's what happened.


[00:29:26.480] - Steve Morreale

Wow, that's almost like you're on the other end of a fire hose. Like, wait a minute, wait a minute, guys, I can only handle so much once you open the floodgates. But over time, I'm sure that it has allowed people to speak their mind and to provide ideas and maybe identify problems that need to be worked on.


[00:29:42.410] - Anthony Pesare

Yeah, absolutely.


[00:29:43.210] - Steve Morreale

What you said earlier was, relationships are so important. I realize that police can't do it alone, have to have relationships with others. How important is that collaboration in the community, with your department?


[00:29:54.070] - Anthony Pesare

It's essential, I think. And I think it's important also that we have a strong relationship with the leaders of the town. We have a great relationship with our town administrator, which has been cultivated over my 14 years before and since. I came back in February, responding to the town administrator, responding to requests, he gets a complaint. I think that's vitally important. And so you build up this reservoir of goodwill with your town, which I think is vitally important, and you need the support of the community. We're lucky that the people in Middletown are very supportive of their police department. We've done citizen satisfaction surveys, we've done citizen police academies, we've had students come in and do surveys for us, interviews. I think we have a pretty good handle on our relationship with the community. And what I found out is that many of the community didn't know all of the events and things that we were involved in. And so I tried to do a better job of marketing the police department, working with Matt Shealey, who is in charge of public relations for the town, putting stuff out on the Internet, using all the modern tools of communication.


[00:30:57.990] - Anthony Pesare

So yeah, relationship with the city's services, the town services is vitally important. So we work with DPW, we work with the fire department, and we try to build those relationships because they pay dividends. They pay dividends for the police department.


[00:31:12.210] - Steve Morreale

How are you handling the rise in mental health calls?


[00:31:15.350] - Anthony Pesare

We have to do another podcast on that. But as you know, when we started, there was no such thing as training for mental health. We were more likely to arrest a person and put them in the criminal justice system, which is where they don't belong. I would have to say a majority of the calls we get, I would say seven out of ten, involve alcohol or some kind of substance abuse. And so, having that in mind, we've switched gears and we have trained our offices in mental health first aid. It's a requirement by the state law. We are clear accredited, a national accreditation agency. So we're required to do that kind of training once a year. We've worked on legislation that allows our offices to bring a person who seems to be in mental crisis to a hospital without filling out this paperwork, which.


[00:31:57.140] - Steve Morreale

Was without committing them.


[00:31:58.540] - Anthony Pesare

Without committing them, exactly right. We're working with local mental health counselors. They work with us on Fridays and Saturdays or whenever we call them, they'll come out to calls with us.


[00:32:08.060] - Steve Morreale



[00:32:08.400] - Anthony Pesare

I think what's happened is that society has finally figured out that police officers can't do everything. We can't be social workers, we can't be warriors, we can't be counselors, we can't be parents. And I think for too long, all of that burden has been put on policing. And as a result of that, sometimes policing didn't react properly because of a lack of training, a lack of resources, et cetera. So I think slowly but surely, people in society is finally realizing that the mental health component of our society resources, counselors, facilities, is woefully inadequate. We can try to help someone, but sometimes there's no place for them to go. There's no resource for them to take advantage of. But working with people like social workers in the state, we can get them the services they need. It's just that I wish there were more of them.


[00:32:59.180] - Steve Morreale

But that's the kind of conversation I'm sure you're having. What are the calls using the data to say what's driving our calls? And are we ready? Are we prepared? What do we need? Who is not at the table to discuss these kinds of things? I'm sure these are some of the conversations you have. I'm worried about recruiting and retention. How is that for you?


[00:33:16.510] - Anthony Pesare

It's the same as anyone in the state or in the country. It's extremely difficult to attract people to this profession right now. Part of it is the way police are perceived. I think part of it is the length of time it takes to hire a young person. Think about someone that comes out of college probably within a month they have a job, right? And police officer. By the time you apply and actually go out on the road, it's probably about a year. And so we suffer from that. We suffer from recruiting diverse populations. It's extremely difficult to recruit minorities. And I think that just goes back to the perception of police and the way police have acted in some communities. As an example, when I joined the state police, there were probably 1000 applicants. Now about 100. My department. When I first took over, I have 50 applicants, maybe 75. The last recruiting that we did, I had twelve applicants. Twelve applicants, and four didn't show up for a mandatory orientation. Coupled, just withdrew. So I'm down to four candidates, and I have to fill three seats. I'm trying to fill three seats at the municipal police academy, but you can talk to any chief.


[00:34:22.280] - Anthony Pesare

We're all suffering from the same thing. So we've actually offered bonuses, bonuses for people. If they stay one year, they get $5,000. If you lateral transfer in, let's say you spent four years in another police department, we'll put you on that fourth step for pay and give you $1,000 after a year. And so part of the problem is now the present generation, I think I read a figure that only 34% of them stay in the first job that they're hired.


[00:34:48.390] - Steve Morreale



[00:34:48.720] - Anthony Pesare

So they have the opportunity to sort of sit back, even in policing. Now, if I'm a qualified candidate, I look to see who has the best pension, who has the best pay, who has the best benefits, and I go there, and it's just the nature of the beast.


[00:35:01.290] - Steve Morreale

And one of the things I said in a recent podcast, and it is not empirical, but my sense of a long history in policing and law enforcement, and then joined academia. And when I first got there, I would estimate that 50% to 60% of the students wanted to be in policing. We still have a great number of people, as Roger Williams does, where you are, that are coming to criminal justice studies. But I'd say we're down to 20% interest in policing and all other interests, from intelligence analysts to victim advocates, those kinds of things. It's really crazy, but I want to discuss that very active. I know at one point in time, you were the president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs association. I was very impressed after the George Floyd incident, that your group came out and made a statement speaking negatively about what happened, and it was not representative of the police department. And I was very, very pleased to see that. I'm afraid so many other chiefs have a tendency to keep quiet when other incidents happen. What's your perspective on that? If something happens that impugns policing, how do you talk about that in meetings?


[00:36:10.300] - Steve Morreale

I'm talking about community meetings. How do you change perception?


[00:36:13.610] - Anthony Pesare

Well, unfortunately, those kind of horrific incidents are what gets the most attention. And so in speaking to communities, we have to be honest that these offices sometimes make horrible decisions. And I always say that it always goes back to selection, how they were selected, how their background was done, et cetera, how they were disciplined, what kind of department they were in. But that's not an excuse. It's a horrific mistake, and we have to own it. But I also talk about the fact that a majority of the interactions between the public and police department are not violent. There are instances where people become violent and apprehended, but we don't see that they get shot or tasered or anything like that. So it's hard to get that across because of what people see on the news. So if you see enough of those horrific things and they keep happening, unfortunately, we all in the profession get painted with that brush, and it's difficult to overcome that. Now, I've seen in my career that the pendulum for policing has swung to the good and swung to the bad, and it does come back. So right now it's to the bad.


[00:37:18.640] - Anthony Pesare

But I think when people see what happened in some big cities where the police were not allowed to police their own community, how bad that can be, and defunding the police that's fallen by the wayside, because even civil rights leaders will say, that's not what we want, that's not going to make our community safer. And so I think you have to embrace those sorts of things, admit that mistakes will be made because it's a human endeavor where police we're also people, the people that make mistakes, unfortunately, some of them can take someone's life. And so I think we have to just focus on training our offices as best we can with de escalation and just be honest that policing has to change. I think we all acknowledge that. And I think what the police chiefs tried to do when they spoke out about the George Floyd incident was to acknowledge that this was horrific and terrible and the officers are in jail and they should be. And also, I think they laid out 20 points that they were going to achieve in order to become better police departments throughout the state.


[00:38:18.000] - Steve Morreale

Yeah, for me it was very impressive. I was really happy that that happened. A couple of things before we wind down. How do you use events as teachable moments in the department? A hit and run happens, a chase happens that leads to a fatality. The George Floyd incident happens. Somebody mishandles someone or misunderstands that the person was in mental health crisis. How do you use those as teachable moments in your department to try to avoid that from happening again?


[00:38:46.090] - Anthony Pesare

Okay, that's a great question. I'll just give an example of something that happened here in Middletown. We had a fire that led to the fatality of a young boy, and officers were first there on the scene before the fire department could get there, and they tried to rescue this young boy unsuccessfully, but they were able to rescue two other siblings in the house. So obviously that was a traumatic event for them. It's a traumatic event for the community and obviously for the parents who lost a child. So the first thing that we do is to make sure our offices are okay, because a lot of them had smoke inhalation, got checked out at the hospital, and then we did a debriefing the next morning and spoke to each of them. And also called down Rhode Island has a great peer support program. Yes, we brought down peer counselors from that organization to speak to each officer to make sure that they were okay, and then periodically checked back with them because it was something that I know affected one officer a lot. And so the teachable moment was to go over the incident first, make sure the officers are okay, and then speak in a command staff of, okay, what could we have done better?


[00:39:51.760] - Anthony Pesare

What could we have done that would have kept our offices out of harm's way and yet would preserve offices on the road? Whole host of suggestions, observations, so that the next time that sort of incident happens, we'll have in mind what happened before, what worked and what didn't work.


[00:40:08.520] - Steve Morreale

Okay, so I'm a new lieutenant, just been promoted, and I'm going to be called into the chief's office. What are you going to tell me? How are you going to set expectations? How are you going to frame it for me having been a sergeant and what the expectations are at the next?


[00:40:22.060] - Anthony Pesare

I think the first thing I would talk about is the fact that now you're not a noncommissioned officer, you're an officer in the Middletown Police Department. So you represent not only yourself, but you represent me in the town. So you have to have that expectation. So you're now in the command staff. So what you say matters, what you do matters. And now you're part of a team that's been assembled to run the police department, to administer the police department, to bring up suggestions to make not only your shift better, but make the department better. In other words, a more holistic look at your role in the police department, and then just assure that individual that as a lieutenant that will always have access to me and to my captain, so that when you have an issue, you can bring it to me. And then that's where we talk about. Tell me something you're interested in. Tell me something that you'd like to do as a project. What would you like to change? One lieutenant, newly promoted, wanted to get involved in the recruitment process, so we put them in charge of the recruitment. So they've expressed their careful what you ask for, right?


[00:41:24.030] - Anthony Pesare

Exactly. That goes back to bringing a good idea to the chief. So I think that's it. If they promoted the sergeant, there was a reason for it. And as you know, that's probably the hardest transition as a police officer, is moving from being one of the guys or gals and now suddenly supervising them. But those that make that transition successfully are ready for the next step. And it's a way of career development. It's a way of preparing for the future, for others to sit in this seat. It's a way to identify people that maybe we want to send to the FBI academy, develop their leadership skills. So it's a good place to be in this department. And every new lieutenant I have that.


[00:42:00.470] - Steve Morreale

Conversation with, that's great. We are talking to Tony Pesare, who is the chief of police in Middletown, Rhode Island. And we've been talking about leadership and wellness and community and community policing and developing others, which I think is important. You have the last word, tony, if somebody was interested in coming into policing, but dissuaded by so many of the negative aspects that are being pushed, what would you say? How do you talk to groups of people about considering policing for a career?


[00:42:28.420] - Anthony Pesare

I would tell them the story of a class I was teaching at Salve called ethics in the criminal justice System. And at the end of the class, I said, I really at this point, don't know why any of you would choose the profession of policing considering what's going on. And I was surprised and encouraged by the answer. They said, chief, what really needs to happen is for you old dinosaurs to step away and let us take over. Because all the people who are naysayers about policing, we grew up with them. We know them, we know how to deal with them. And what you need is a new generation of police officers to take over policing. And they're absolutely right. So I would say to someone who's contemplate, if you want to be an agent of change, if you don't like the way police is policing, why the police are policing the way they do, then become part of the solution. Don't just bemoan the problem, become part of the solution. Join the police department. Even though recruiting is down, there's still quality people, good people, that get into policing every day. And so I would say, join us.


[00:43:30.740] - Anthony Pesare

Join us. So lifeis  unlike any other. It's different, and it's very rewarding. At the end of your career, I have no regrets. Every career has ups and downs, and I've had them. I've made all the mistakes everybody else does, but here I am. I'm still, still in love with policing.


[00:43:47.090] - Steve Morreale

I said it was going to be a last question, but there's one thing I wanted to cover, and that is academia. And your view of academia and those who sometimes are in our industry that don't have a lot of faith in academia because of their liberal naysayer, approach your experience as a dean and still teaching. What do you say to those naysayers?


[00:44:07.970] - Anthony Pesare

I would say that academia needs to understand that policing is a profession. And so the approach to educating those individuals has to have the fact that they want to go into law enforcement, criminal justice as the end game. So not only should the academics be rigorous, but also there should be practical applications. There should be if a student wants to take it physical training, there should be opportunities to have different agencies come down and explain so that we prepare these people not only academically and intellectually, but also for the physical demands, for also for the mental strain. I gave a mental health first aid class to my graduate students at Salvage. That's what's needed. So I would say to the naysayers that there is a role for academics in law enforcement criminal justice. It should be recognized and it should be embraced. But I think it has to change. I think the approach has to change.


[00:45:05.170] - Steve Morreale

Thank you. I appreciate all the time and taking time out of your very busy schedule. I still am wondering why you're still in the business. And by the same token, I know that when it's in your blood that you can make a difference. And hearing anecdotes from people who work around you, Tony, I can see that you're still making a difference and that's good to make you nothing but proud.


[00:45:26.530] - Anthony Pesare

Thank you. I'm humbled by that. But it's a team effort, believe me. Everyone has to be a part of it. But thank you for that.


[00:45:32.090] - Steve Morreale

I understand.


[00:45:32.620] - Anthony Pesare

Thank you for your contribution to law enforcement.


[00:45:35.070] - Steve Morreale

Thanks, Tony.


[00:45:35.840] - Anthony Pesare

Listen, your academic work thank you, sir.


[00:45:37.980] - Steve Morreale

So we've been talking to Chief Anthony Pesare and we're waiting on a book that will be coming out at some time. And when that happens, I'll make sure to push that out and I thank you very much for listening. That's another episode of The CopDoc Podcast, the can, as they say. Stay tuned for more episodes. Thanks and have a good day. Stay safe.


[00:45:58.290] - Intro

Thanks for listening to The CopDoc podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into Tthe CopDoc podcast for regular episodes of Interview with Thought Leaders in Policing.


Podcasts we love