Hundreds are expected to gather at the Crowne Plaza at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday to show their support and give thanks to former Warwick Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney, who retired this past December after nearly 20 years in charge of the city’s police department.
The momentum to honor McCartney has significantly grown since the idea to give the chief a proper send-off sprouted shortly following his retirement announcement. Since those first conversations, dozens of individuals, organizations, friends and colleagues of McCartney have donated time and money to create the McCartney Charitable Foundation – which will ensure that McCartney’s mission to serve and protect will prolong well beyond his tenure.
Donations have already surpassed $22,000 for the initial gift to the foundation. While it has not been decided exactly how the money will be utilized through the foundation, McCartney has said that furthering two particular endeavors from his policing career would be especially meaningful to him – advocating for the rights of probationers and parolees to get a second chance at life following a brush with the law, and helping those in the throes of mental illness or substance abuse access supportive services that they need.
Specifically, in regards to helping people with substance abuse issues, nobody can attest to McCartney’s positive impact in Warwick and beyond better than Christine Harkins, president and CEO of Bridgemark Addiction Recovery Services. Harkins has been involved with Bridgemark for 27 years, and has seen the policing model championed by McCartney evolve in the city throughout the years.
Bridgemark kicked off the foundation with a $5,000 matching gift.
“I think he's a leader in more ways than one. One of the ways is that he was able to transcend stigma,” she said. “He was one of the very first that was capable of considering true rehabilitation instead of merely incarceration.”
Harkins spoke about times in past generations when the police – and society as a whole – felt morally justified to view addicts as lesser human beings that needed to be dealt with, often put away in prison, as they were seen as unable to function within the confines of regular society.
But she says that McCartney began to help facilitate a change away from that stigma that once he came to Warwick in 1999, and that his vision has expanded into what we know today as a true community policing model – where the police are looking out for the best interests of the person in front of them, and that genuine compassion has become another tool on their belts.
“I really think that Warwick, under the leadership of Colonel McCartney, really became a model of how to incorporate help as well as protection,” Harkins said. “He's helped change the stigma not only of persons suffering from addiction, but those that felt that the officers were not necessarily there to help – he changed that too.”
Those that know McCartney best are touched at the outpouring of support he has received, and the vindication it has shown regarding his style of policing.
“It's honestly been overwhelming but it's heartwarming and very exciting that people really still want to see my father continue some of these initiatives,” said McCartney’s daughter, Kerry McCartney-Prout. “I'm blown away that people are so passionate and excited about him continuing his work as a civilian, so to speak. It's been incredible.”
“He's not a person that brings a lot of attention to himself,” she continued. “For him, I think it's been a little bit humbling as well, realizing the impact he's had in his career that so many people are anxious for him to continue his work.”
McCartney-Prout attributes her father’s low-profile, service-first police style to his days in the United States Marine Corps, during which he served time leading troops during the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide and retired from service as a Colonel.
Originally concerned about McCartney being able to adjust to retirement after so many years of consistent service between the Marines, the Providence Police Department and Warwick, McCartney-Prout said she was pleasantly surprised that her father was actually taking quite well to the slower pace. McCartney himself said it was still an active adjustment, but a welcome one.
“A lot of people have said that they were concerned about me but I kind of knew it was time to retire,” McCartney said. “I knew for a little while, you get into your 70s and have to be realistic about what you're capable of.”
He mentioned that he was confident Col. Rick Rathbun would continue to excel in his position as the new police chief, and that working with the McCartney Foundation will enable him to “keep his foot in the door” without needing to be in the office or on call 24/7, like he was during his time as chief. He mentioned the money from the foundation might come in handy to provide training to officers in handling situations that involve people with mental disorders or substance abuse issues.
“If this foundation can assist our constituents in continuing on the road forward for them in the case of people who had some bad luck with the criminal justice system, hopefully this will be a plus,” he said.
“For those people who have substance abuse or mental health problems, what I was thinking about was that the city may be hitting hard times, if this can in any way assist the department in furthering those programs with the crisis intervention team, hopefully this will be a plus.”
McCartney said that he initially thought he would silently walk off into the sunset after his retirement. However, just like his daughter, he has been positively “overwhelmed” at how the foundation and celebratory event has come together.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “When I originally envisioned retiring, I envisioned sailing off and wishing everybody well and I'd do what I had to do and everything moves on. The fact that this is occurring, I have to say I'm a little overwhelmed by the response.”
In addition to his time as police chief and years of policing experience in Providence and Warwick, McCartney has been an active member of the Warwick Rotary Club and he continues to sit on the board for Bridgemark and the Whitmarsh House in Providence. He was a former president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and chaired the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission/Board of Directors (and put Warwick on track to receive national accreditation for an unprecedented seventh consecutive time).
Founders of the McCartney Foundation, who donated or pledged $1,000 or more, include The Carpionato Group, Bridgemark, Greenwood Credit Union, The Slocum Agency, George Shuster, Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, Joseph McGair, Home Loan Investment Bank, Urquhart Murphy, Warwick Rotary Club, Chelos, Wave Federal Credit Union, Kent Hospital, BankRI, Washington Trust Bank and the Boyle Funeral Home.
Additionally, Friends of the Foundation who also helped contribute towards the total gift raised, include as of this time:
Abbott Properties, former Mayor Scott Avedisian, Janis Constantine, D’Ambra Construction, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, William Palmisciano and the Warwick Mall.
Members of the founding committee for the McCartney Foundation include:
Scott Avedisian, Susan Boyer, Lincoln Chafee, Kelly Coates, Lara D’Antuono, Justice Frank Flaherty, Christine Harkins, Amy Healey, John Howell, Sen. Michael McCaffrey, Kerry McCartney-Prout, Joseph McGair, Donald Morash, Peggy Oliver, Bill Palmisciano, Col. Rick Rathbun, Debbie Rich, Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, Mayor Joseph Solomon, Col. Richard Tamburini (Johnston) and Gene Valicenti.