BY MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
JAMESTOWN – When East Providence native Thomas P. Tighe was searching for a job as a municipal police officer, his father-in-law clipped a newspaper ad advertising an opening in the Jamestown department.
“I didn’t know where Jamestown was,” he says, laughing. “My father-in-law, who worked at the radar station at Beavertail, had to give me directions.
Tighe, who turns 70 in August, has spent his entire working life as a Jamestown policeman. He retires today after 44 years in uniform, the past two decades as chief. Lt. Angela Denault, a 17-year veteran who is the patrol commander and heads internal affairs and prosecutions, will serve as acting chief until Edward Mello, currently Westerly’s police chief, takes over in the fall.
Law enforcement was always Tighe’s career choice.
“Going into high school, I knew that I wanted to go into police work,” he says. “Knowing the officers I grew up around” was a major influence. He
served in the U.S. Air Force until 1966, then enrolled at Bryant College before taking up the full-time job in Jamestown.
Much has changed since Tom Tighe found his way here and settled in: when he joined the force he was one of five; now there are 15 with one unfilled vacancy.
The Newport Bridge wasn’t completed and townsfolk used the ferry to get to Newport. “There were still toll-takers on the Jamestown Bridge,” he recalls. “I ride over the bridge and see signs for EZ Pass and think of this being a whole new era.”
Progress also saw the building of a new police headquarters, near the golf course, the creation of a detective division in the department – one of Tighe’s proudest accomplishments – and the establishment of a police union with whom the chief says he’s always had a very good and supportive relationship.
Tighe, who is a cancer survivor, has had very rewarding experiences. He received a citation for helping pull a man from a burning house and was commended for his work coordinating security for the arrival of the Tall Ships in 1976.
“At that time there was no freeway,” he notes. Consequently, everyone wanting a close-up look at the historic vessels was directed through the island’s narrow two-lane roads to the waterfront.
On a personal level, the chief and his wife, Anne, raised a daughter and two sons: Rose-Anne works part-time for the Pawtucket Red Sox; Thomas is a dispatcher at the Newport Navy base; and Howard is deputy chief of the Jamestown Fire Department as well as a lieutenant in the Portsmouth Fire Department. When the merger between the Jamestown fire department and emergency medical services is completed, Howard will head that division.
The Tighes have two little granddaughters and another grandchild due.
Not everything was rosy during Tighe’s tenure in this peaceful, extremely popular vacation spot. In fact, there were a number of horrendous crimes.
“Just after I took over as chief, a couple of local residents were walking at Beavertail and found a body that had been burnt. Two of our men worked on [the case] with the State Police but it’s still unsolved.”
Unquestionably the saddest case, Tighe says, involved the hit-and-run deaths of Janet L. Caswell and her cousin Debra Ann Westbrook, both 19, who were struck on Feb. 12, 1976, while walking on North Road.
“I was working that day,” he recalls. “After the guy hit them he drove onto the Jamestown Bridge and smacked head-on into another car, killing a third person.” The third victim was George E. Potter of Narragansett, co-owner of South County Fuel Company, in Wakefield.
Tighe says a great disappointment was failing to get the Jamestown force nationally accredited. That process, involving a complete review of policies and standards, was deemed too costly by town officials. The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, of which he is a longtime office-holder and committee member, is trying to devise a less expense method to accredit individual departments.
Twice Tighe served as interim town manager – he says his job was “to keep the ship sailing” – and, as chief, he also headed the Harbor Commission and the Jamestown Emergency Management Agency. He has offered to stay on in the latter position. “Whatever the town needs, I’m here,” he says.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .