SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — He’s been heading the police department in South Kingstown since July 10, but Joel Ewing-Chow can now officially call himself chief – no more ‘interim’ needed.
The town made it official Nov. 9, when it named Ewing-Chow its new permanent chief of the 55-officer police department.
The shield atop his duty uniform hat still has the word “Captain” – his prior rank – emblazoned across it. A new, updated one is on the way, he said.
Ewing-Chow had served as interim chief since July, guiding the department through the summer months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a first for every police chief.
“I think nobody expected things to get as serious as they did,” he said. “We never experienced anything like it and didn’t have a lot of protocols and policies in place in order to stop exposure and transmission. It’s been challenging to law enforcement and policing.”
The chief misses running a station that’s open to the public and having interaction with community members, he said.
“The police station should be a place the public can come to and get assistance, speak with an officer,” he said.
The chief said the department dealt with the usual summer issues such as parking and beach traffic, but that there was a large spike this year related to more people staying close to home.
“Our population skyrockets in the summer. We had a lot of issues at the beaches with parking and traffic and address that as best we can,” he said.
He said he enjoys working in South Kingstown due to its large area and diverse population. A typical shift could see officers visit Main Street, Matunuck and URI, for instance.
“We have a great working relationship with the URI police department,” Ewing-Chow added. “We had three or four Zoom meetings with them in the last two months about COVID and what’s going on in our community and on their campus. They’ve been excellent to work with.”
As chief, he’s responsible for the overall management and operations of each of the town’s public safety divisions, including both sworn and civilian personnel.
A member of the town’s senior management team, his duties include managing the day-to-day operations of the department and establishing new programs to meet the community’s changing needs. He’s also responsible for the selection, training, assignment and supervision of all sworn and civilian department personnel.
“One of my priorities is that I want to see our department become more involved with our community,” the chief said. “I want to see us do more outreach, whether it’s to underprivileged groups, neighborhood groups, whatever it may be. I think we can be a lot more proactive that way, instead of reactive. Let’s face it, looking at the news and what’s happening nationally, people are edging toward mistrust of the police department. What I want to do is break that down, say ‘We’re here, we’re regular people like you are, we have families, emotions. And we’re in this job because we want to be public servants, we want to help out.”
A Massachusetts native and Narragansett resident, Ewing-Chow, 48, graduated from Salve Regina University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in management, as well as from Roger Williams University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice.
His history in South Kingstown goes back 25 years, however, to 1995. He began his public safety career as a civilian dispatcher before becoming a South Kingstown patrol officer in 1999.
Promotions to sergeant followed in 2005, to detective commander in 2009, captain of operations in 2013 and most recently to captain of administration in 2017.
In looking for a chief to succeed former Chief Joseph Geaber, the town conducted a national search. Ewing-Chow was chosen from a field of 15 applicants and five finalists.
“We conducted a broad search for the town’s next chief and Joel Ewing-Chow stood out as the best choice for this community,” Town Manager Rob Zarnetske said. “Chief Ewing-Chow has the institutional knowledge, the disposition and the skills necessary to move the South Kingstown Police Department forward as it builds on its tradition of citizen-focused public service.”
Ewing-Chow said one thing he’d like people to know about South Kingstown is that all the officers and employees “go above and beyond to serve the public, to make the public feel as comfortable as they can, given whatever situation they’re in.
“We get thank-yous from the public weekly for officers doing great jobs, for helping them out, and these are things we like to see,” he said. “In my opinion it shows that we serve the community. We’re here to serve.”