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JAMESTOWN â Angela Denault laughs when she describes her husbandâs announcement each time âPolicewomen of Broward Countyâ appears on television.
âHe says, âYour showâs on.â That certainly doesnât show what my life is like. I wonder how much of it is staged.â
Having served as the islandâs interim police chief since late spring, she was surprised when media outlets made a big deal out of her appointment â the first woman in state history to hold such a position.
âThere are women chiefs all over the country,â she notes. âWe shouldnât be raving about what weâre so far behind on.â
This is not to say that, as far as Rhode Island and, in particular, Jamestown are concerned, this 39-year-old career officer â who helped retired Chief Thomas Tighe transition out by taking on many of his duties before he left â isnât a trend-setter.
The New Bedford native hadnât considered law enforcement until her freshman year at Salve Regina University when she took a class with Dr. Lois Wins, a former police officer. âSheâs a great teacher and she got me interested.â
While studying for her final exams to earn a bachelorâs degree in criminal justice, Angela was also testing for a position on the Jamestown police force. She graduated in August 1994 and became a Jamestown patrol officer the next month â the first woman police officer in the townâs history.
âThey were way behind,â she reflects, adding the all-male force was full of veterans. âThere were a lot of guys who had been here a long time.â
As they retired, the department became more diverse.
Ten years after joining the force, having worked as assisting sergeant on several occasions, Angela was permanently promoted to the shift commanderâs rank.
Last year, after more testing, she became patrol commander with the rank of lieutenant, making her second-in-command to the chief. Her career has also included heading internal affairs and prosecutions.
Angela likes the lieutenantâs role, she says, and didnât consider applying to become the permanent chief.
âIâd only been a full commander for a year,â she notes. âI felt I needed more administrative training and experience to do it properly. Maybe next time aroundâ sheâll apply.
Family is also a major concern.
Married to a Rhode Island deputy sheriff who works at the Providence District Court, Angela, 39, has children aged eight and six.
âI didnât see much of them this summer,â she says. âItâs another reason I didnât apply for the chiefâs position. My husband works days and I work nights; one of us is always with the kids. Itâs been hard working days. Iâm very, very lucky to have marvelous in-laws who have taken careâ of the children.
Summer, when the islandâs population triples but the police department stays the same â 12 officers and five dispatchers â is always hectic especially with boaters who sometimes consume more alcohol than is safe.
âThere are few enforcement officers on the water,â she says. âThe Department of Environmental Management has cut back personnel. We had a police boat but it needed upkeep and the town didnât want to pay.
âItâs a big challenge, trying to balance the budget with our needs. Iâve gotten a different taste for why we canât do some things we want to. We have to work with what we have. Everybody should rotate through the chiefâs position. There would be much less grumbling.â
Keeping the peace on land is another whole issue.
âItâs been busy and we have no extra help,â says Angela, adding that sheâs done both the chiefâs job plus many of the duties she previously performed as patrol commander.
The contrast in winter is profound.
âIn February, at 3 a.m., thereâs not much happening in Jamestown.â
The most difficult cases she confronts involve domestic abuse.
âWe go in as law enforcement, but itâs a lot of social work, too,â she explains. âWe see the same people a lot of the time and itâs sad but, usually, the situation doesnât change. Itâs especially tough when there are children involved. We have to maintain a balance of being helpful but also professional.â
The best thing about being chief, Angela notes, was using grant money to buy new tables, chairs and a TV for a combination training/conference room which is also open to the public for meetings.
âBefore, I would have needed permission,â she says.
The new chief, Edward Mello, who is leaving the same position in Westerly, takes over Sept. 19.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com.View more articles in: