At JSTRI, Region’s Police Problem-Solve and Plan Amid Pandemic That Is ‘New for Everyone’

The JSTRI at RWU hosts videoconferences on best practices for police departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police professionals from more than 40 police departments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have participated.

By Anna Cohen
image of West Warwick Police Chief Richard Ramsay
West Warwick Police Chief Richard Ramsay ’97 ‘04M

“We’re stuck trying to navigate these waters of COVID-19, and these are completely uncharted waters for all of us,” said Police Chief Richard Ramsay ’97 ‘04M, of the West Warwick, R.I., Police Department.

Ramsay, along with more than 60 police professionals from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, representing more than 43 police departments, is finding support in these challenging times through the Justice System Training and Research Institute (JSTRI) at Roger Williams University.

As part of ongoing efforts to enhance the public safety response to the pandemic, the JSTRI is hosting facilitated discussions online for police professionals through videoconferences. Topics include Risk Management, Long-Term Planning, and applying to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program.

These videoconferences are designed to serve police department needs, keeping communication between departments and the JSTRI open and incorporating officer feedback into future sessions. 

“I was having a conversation earlier today with one of the police chiefs and I said, 'You’ve got a lot of meetings and videoconferences right now. How can we help you?,' ” said JSTRI Director and Assistant Dean of the School of Justice Studies David Lambert. “We don’t want to be wasting people's time. We want to make sure we are adding value to what police departments are trying to accomplish within the next months.”

Chief Ramsay is one of the many police chiefs participating in JSTRI’s COVID-19 videoconferences. A two-time RWU graduate, he earned his Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice in 1997 and his Master’s in Criminal Justice in 2004. Shortly after graduation, he began working as an adjunct professor at University College, and has been involved with RWU since. 

During a busy time for first responders, Ramsay shares his perspective on working day to day, contingency planning, and how it helps to hear from other police departments when the circumstances are new for everyone.

What is it like to be a police chief during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

We’re working day to day, and every day is different. It’s tough because there is such a lack of PPE out there, and there are people in communities who actually have COVID-19. Officers have to decontaminate after they make arrests. Those are short-term, immediate needs. The JSTRI allows us to think one month out, two months out, three months out, five months out, and consider our plans. They’ve always done a great job. I’m proud to be part of the JSTRI, actually.

We are doing the best we can. We’ll get through it like we get through everything. Through chaos comes order, it just takes time. We hope this doesn’t last forever and we can all get back to some semblance of normalcy.

How have JSTRI videoconferences helped police departments? 

I found them to be very helpful. They brought all the officers together and posed some questions. What is working? What are plans if people in our department come down with COVID-19? And what are our short-term and long-term plans? It was good to step away from the day-to-day tasks and try to think about the bigger picture,  because this is new for everyone.

There were some great ideas that were put out. Some departments jumped on those ideas and have already made changes. Luckily, I haven’t had any issues with my officers with COVID-19, but if I did, I now have a contingency plan in place. I know how I can restructure my department in order to meet the needs of the public with the number of officers I will have on hand. 

What ideas have come out of the JSTRI videoconferences? 

We had the opportunity to make a collaborative plan. Some people came up with ideas that other people haven't even thought about. In Rhode Island, an officer remains post-certified for three years after they retire. They would be able to come back with a minimal amount of training to get up to speed and fill in voids if it came to that. That was one of the things we came up with when we talked.

The other thing to consider is changing the shifts. We worked with other chiefs in different departments that use a different rotation, maybe 12-hour shifts instead of 8-hour shifts. They shared their shift schedules to make it so we aren’t starting from scratch if we have to change shifts. 

It is good to break away from the things you are doing, regroup, think about something else, and come back to it, so that worked out well. 

What made you want to teach at RWU? 

I’ve been involved since 2004. I love to teach. When I was younger, I wanted to do the best I could do myself out on the street to help the people that needed our services. Now, I’m looking at the profession as a whole, and how to make that profession a little bit better before I retire. This has given me an opportunity to really reach young supervisors that are coming in, to help answer their questions, and to help them not make the same mistakes that I made. 

What makes teaching meaningful to you? 

The students don’t only go off into their own communities, they reach back out to you to when they need something. As a matter of fact, I had someone reach out to me today. That’s a great benefit. You know when they reach out to you, you’re doing something right.

In every class I teach at UC, I always get something from the students too. It’s been a great give and take. It’s something I’m not interested in giving up just yet. It’s the profession I chose, and I wouldn’t have chosen another one. I’ve had a wonderful career. I wouldn’t change it for the world.