SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — South Kingstown Police Chief Joseph P. Geaber will retire July 9 after more than 45 years in the same department he eventually led and brought through a rigorous process of policy changes to achieve state accreditation for its professionalism and standards.
Various local and state law enforcement officials, as well as town government officials, praised Geaber for his dedication throughout his career.
Captain Joel Ewing-Chow has been appointed interim police chief effective July 10th, said Town Manager Robert Zarnetske who made the selection.
“Captain Ewing-Chow and the entire command staff are prepared to lead the department forward while we conduct a national search for a permanent chief,” Zarnetske said. “It’s important for everyone to know that this is not a time of hesitation for the police department.”
“On the contrary, the South Kingstown Police will continue to fully and enthusiastically continue the work Chief Geaber has begun – they will continue to develop strong relationships with social service providers and the public to promote proactive – rather than reactive – community safety programs and initiatives,” he said.
That kind of work won also praise from Town Council President Abel Collins.
“Chief Geaber has been a fixture in town for decades, and the police department won’t be the same without his steady and humble leadership,” he said.
“Compassion may not be the first word that comes to mind when people imagine the police, but it is certainly the quality that defines Joe Geaber. I commend him for seeing the department through to full accreditation and so capably filling the big shoes left by the retirement of Chief (Vincent) Vespia,” he said.
Praising Geaber, Zarnetske said, he has served “this community well. In the short time I have known him, I have come to consider him a friend. I will miss his calm and gentle manner and his careful counsel.”
State Police Col. James M. Manni, a South Kingstown resident, said “I’ve known Chief Geaber for most of my law enforcement career. He’s been a consummate professional, a class act and mentor to all those police officers junior him. The men and women of the Rhode Island State Police wish nothing but the best for him in his retirement.”
Geaber said the time had come to spend more time with his family and practice law now.
“After 45 years as a police officer and three and a half years as chief, I promised my family I would retire. I wanted to make sure the South Kingstown Police Department received state accreditation before I retired,” he said about the approval that came last March.
“I worked to increase the size of the department, added new divisions and updated much of our equipment. I want to thank all of my command staff, fellow officers, dispatchers, EMS and civilian support staff who assisted with these accomplishments,” he said in a statement to The Independent.
He also said that the town management throughout the years, including the town council and various town departments, have helped him in a variety of ways both as chief and as he rose through the ranks with more responsibilities related to both law enforcement and administration.
“I will miss everyone and would like to thank my family, friends and co-workers who have supported me throughout my career. I would especially like to thank my wife, Debi, who has tolerated a cop for way too long. Without her and my immediate family, I would not have made it to this point,” he said.
“I intend to spend as much time with my family as I can, especially my four grandchildren. After that, I hope to help my son with his landscape construction business and practice law,” he said.
That connection to family is a trait that impressed James Tierney, now Narragansett town manager, who worked as a police officer with Geaber for 28 years.
“Joe was my training officer as a young rookie on the South Kingstown Police Department and to this day, I realize that his mentoring made me a much better cop,” he said.
“Joe has always been a great family man, consummate professional, compassionate and always fair and he was all of that with a great sense of humor,” he added.
Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan reflected on their work together. It included developing crisis intervention teams, which is a partnership between the police, mental health professionals and the community that seeks to achieve the common goals of safety, understanding and service to persons in crisis, people with mental illnesses and their families.
They also recently joined together to raise money for the Johnnycake Center to help needy individuals, he said.
“Chief Geaber is a very progressive law enforcement leader who cares deeply for all of the members of his department and the community. It has been a pleasure to collaborate with him on initiatives to strengthen our communities,” Corrigan said.
He also drew praise from the vice president of the South Kingstown Town Council, Bryant C. Da Cruz. “He’s a very approachable person. He’s someone you can easily talk to. He’s always responsive. I just think the chief is a great person all-round,” he said.