By ERIN O'BRIEN The Warwick Police Department's Sgt. Matthew Higgins holds a Monday through Friday position in the Community Services Division, but it's far from a boring desk job. The native Rhode Islander has been with Warwick Police since 2011. With
The Warwick Police Department’s Sgt. Matthew Higgins holds a Monday through Friday position in the Community Services Division, but it’s far from a boring desk job.
The native Rhode Islander has been with Warwick Police since 2011. With his promotion in March from detective, Higgins has directed the School Resource Officers Program, along with “Coffee with a Cop,” and most recently, “Story Time with a Cop” at Barnes & Noble in February, as a means of fostering community engagement.
Everything came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 infiltrated Warwick. Higgins and Capt. Mike Lima brainstormed methods of continuing to engage the public during this season of stay at home orders and social distancing. Relatively new to social media, Higgins admits the learning curve was a bit steep at first, but relying on the success of the Story Time program, the department’s Virtual Story Time on Facebook was created. For his contribution, Lima decided on Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s classic, “Good Night, Moon.”
“What we strive for, as police officers is yes, we wear a badge and a gun, but we want people feel ‘police are people just like us,’” Higgins explains. “With Virtual Story Time, we are breaking barriers.” It’s also getting a lot of followers from all over the globe with some episodes with more than 20,000 viewers.
There are even two talking dogs in the Warwick Police Department, three if you consider McGruff the Crime Dog. K-9 Haki, a purebred German shepherd who joined the force in February, and his comrade in arms, German shepherd K-9 Garry, are reading canines. They appear to read from memory, or perhaps Teleprompters. Haki recounted “Officer Buckle and Gloria,” a book by Peggy Rathmann, while Garry recited a poem entitled “If Dogs Could Talk” by Kirk Mann, and praised his listeners for their good work in social distancing, and encouraging them to take care of each other.
Wearing his black leather gloves and Humphrey Bogart-style trench coat, Officer McGruff the Crime Dog read “The Pout Pout Fish” by Deborah Diesen, extolling it as a New York Times bestseller. McGruff’s other selection was “Happy Easter” by Kurt Wiese. He apologized for his gruff voice as he read the mother rabbit’s lines adding, “I’m a dog; what can you do?” At the end of each story time, McGruff ends with his signature “Remember, kids, keep studying hard, and take a bite out of crime!” Speaking of dog tales, Higgins read “Clifford the Big Red Dog” by Norman Bridwell and Gene Zion’s “Harry the Dirty Dog.”
The Warwick Police Department boasts approximately 175 officers, including four newly sworn in. That’s a lot of Virtual Story Time readers from which to choose. Officer Nelson Carreiro of the Prosecution Department decided on “I Want to Be a Police Officer” by Laura Driscoll. He confided to his audience that it’s his brother’s favorite book, although he won’t admit it. Lt. Michael Carreiro works across the parking lot at the Warwick Fire Department. The previous week as a guest reader, he shared “Because a Little Bug Went Ka-choo” by Rosetta Stone. As a Warwick Police Department Facebook post page says, “... different uniforms, but play for the same team.”
Officer Jill Marshall of the Community Services Division brought along her stuffed animal companions Gerald, Piggy, and Penguin, for her reading of “Waiting is Not Easy” by one of her favorite authors, Mo Willems.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to work for Inspector Craig Sroka of East Providence Police Department. “I took the wrong route and I ended up at the wrong police station!” When he arrived he was given a Warwick badge to wear. To earn his keep, he said, Sroka selected one of his children’s books, “I Am Not Going to Get Up Today,” by Dr. Seuss, knowing both children and adults would be able to relate.
One of the department’s youngest guest readers was Nettie, the daughter of a Warwick Police Department employee, who cleverly chose “Good Night, Rhode Island,” written by Adam Gamble, for a little local flavor.
Local celebrities, like DJ Steve Donovan of Light Rock 105, graciously volunteered to read a Stephen King novel, however the police department offered to lend him another book instead, called “No Sleep for Sheep” by Karen Beaumont. Coincidently, Donovan claims he has seven sheep at his house, and attests it is very difficult indeed to get them to go to sleep.
Radio host Ben DeCastro filmed Capt. Phil LeBlanc reading a pirate story from his boat at Sea/Safe, complete with animation and sound effects.
There’s even more to Virtual Story Time than police officers, their canines, and local media personalities. Reaching out to famous Rhode Islanders to participate, Higgins contacted agents for Viola Davis and Billy Gilman, and Taylor Swift’s squad for this opportunity of a lifetime.
According to his original plan of inviting celebrities with ties to Rhode Island, Higgins contacted a representative for actor/writer John O’Hurley, an alumnus of Providence College known for playing J. Peterman on “Seinfeld.” In keeping with the canine theme, O’Hurley read one of his own published books, “The Perfect Dog,” with the help of his young son, who said, “The perfect dog is the one next to you.”
O’Hurley’s people talked to some other people, and probably did lunch, and soon other actors, several of whom portray police officers on TV, appeared for Virtual Story Time with their favorite bedtime stories. A detective on “Hawaii 5-O,” played by Regi Davis, fellow “Hawaii 5-O” thespian detective Liam McNeal, and actress Andrea Savo of TVs “SWAT,” who solves L.A.’s crimes, was joined by her dogs Nema and Buster from sunny California to share a story.
“Our role in the department is to remain engaged in the community. Judging by the comments on our Facebook page, it’s a young and old crowd,” Higgins said. One comment he recalled was from a 70-something viewer who looks forward to it every night. “How long will it go on?” Higgins wonders. “Time will tell! I certainly didn’t expect it to go on for eight weeks!”
The sergeant decided to retire from reading, but his girls at home encouraged him to continue, so he returned for an encore to read another story. This time he presented Margaret Rey’s “Curious George Makes Pancakes” to appease two special little girls who insisted, “Who wouldn’t want to hear about a monkey that makes pancakes?”
One day, the Warwick Police Department’s Virtual Story Time will serve as a time capsule of the long days, and even longer weeks, which were made a bit more bearable, and story times made a little bit cozier, because of those who protect and serve us.