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College's newest College Police chief
has long history of public service
Nov. 1, 2012
“When I first retired from law enforcement I wanted to be done with it totally, but that was all right for about six months,” Wetherell said.Dale Wetherell, newest chief of the Community College of Rhode Island Police Department, couldn’t walk away from being a police officer. Wetherell spent 30 years on the Rehoboth, Mass., Police Department, retiring as chief in 2003.
Missing the profession, Wetherell worked for a brief time as an investigator of elderly abuse but then applied to be a police captain with the CCRI Police Department. He started at the Newport County Campus in 2005 and then moved to the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln, taking responsibility for both that campus and Newport. He became acting deputy chief in 2008 and was promoted to chief in May.
Despite his successful career in law enforcement, Wetherell did not want to be a cop at first. “My father was a fireman and when I graduated from high school I wanted to be a fireman, too,” he said.
Wetherell took the civil service exam after graduating from high school but then had to wait for a position to open up with a fire department. In the mean time, he became a reserve officer with the Rehoboth Police Department in 1973 and quickly found that he liked the work.
“I liked working with the community and I started to enjoy being a police officer,” he said.
Reserve officers in the 1970s did not have nearly as much training as regular patrol officers, but “back then, police departments were small and they didn’t have a lot of finances to have fully trained officers,” Wetherell said. He added that reserve officers are still used in modern departments but have more training than they used to and mostly serve in special details rather than as regular patrol officers.
In 1974, Wetherell was hired as a Rehoboth police officer, attended the Massachusetts Municipal Police Academy and went on toearn a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from Roger Williams University. Over the years he attended Babson College for supervision training and earned a certification in thanatology, the scientific study of death, at Bristol Community College.
Wetherell had a varied career as a Rehoboth police officer: He was promoted to sergeant and was a K-9 officer, became a shift supervisor, detective sergeant and, eventually, a lieutenant. He worked both day and evening shifts, covering nights when his daughter and then son were born so he could stay home with them during the day when his wife worked. He became chief of Rehoboth Police in 2000.
“Being the chief is kind of a lonely job,” Wetherell said. “It’s a job that when you take it on, you’re the man sitting at the top and the decisions that are made lie solely with you.”
As chief, Wetherell felt responsible for the safety of his town and all of his officers. “It was challenging but I enjoyed my career with Rehoboth immensely,” he said. “It was a great job.”
Policing a college is a lot different from policing a town, Wetherell said. For one, a college police department is governed by federal laws such as the Clery Act regarding crime reporting in higher education and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, rather than the court decisions that govern the conduct of town and city departments.
On the other hand, CCRI’s nearly 18,000 students make a community similar in size to what a municipal police department might serve.
Wetherell said that most of CCRI’s officers are police academy graduates, many of them with long years of experience, and they hold all the police powers of any other officer, including that of arrest. Even so, their No. 1 priority is to help CCRI’s students and staff.
“I don’t want people to feel intimidated when they come in the door [of a campus police office],” Wetherell said. “Our ultimate goal is to make sure that the students who come here and the people who work here and everyone who visits the campus feel like this is a safe place to be.”
One of Wetherell’s biggest goals as chief is to promote community policing, a practice that municipal police departments use to increase officer involvement in the communities they serve. He wants to add a second police captain – one each for the Knight and Flanagan campuses – as well as update the department’s equipment, pursue an accreditation by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administration and perhaps someday move the college police office to a more visible location at the Knight Campus.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the seven-plus years that I’ve been here,” Wetherell said. “With the economy the way it is and the large number of students who need us, I see an administration that really works diligently, keeping CCRI focused and moving ahead. That’s something that, when you’re in an administrative position like mine, means a lot.”
Wetherell still lives in Rehoboth. His daughter is now married with a daughter of her own and his son is studying criminal justice at Springfield College.
Wetherell urged all CCRI students and employees to seek out the College Police if they have a problem. He tells his officers: “Whatever happens to an individual, no matter how small it appears to you, it’s probably very big to them and we’re here to help them.”