Rick J. Rathbun, a Richmond native and Chariho High School graduate, has had a long record of community service, capped off by his recent selection as chief of the Warwick Police Department.
Rathbun, promoted to colonel, was sworn in as chief of the department on Monday, taking over for Col. Stephen McCarty, who retired in December. The 24-year police veteran said he was excited to take the reins of a department with a strong roster of committed officers. He said he hopes that his small-town background will be a plus as the department expands on a community policing model for a city of more than 80,000 people.
"I'm very fortunate to be working for a department that isn't broken," he said in an interview last week. "There is nothing here that we need to fix. The goal moving forward will be to build on all that we've done and to expand on a policing model that has brought transparency and enhanced communication with the community."
Rathbun was a resident of Richmond until 2000. His stepfather, Frank Papa, is a former chief of the Rhode Island Environmental Police. His mother, Patti Papa, was a longtime employee of Washington Trust, beginning in Westerly when it was the bank's only office. Both are retired.
After graduating from high school in 1988, he served four years in the U.S. Air Force before working toward a career in law enforcement. He holds an associate's degree in law enforcement from the Community College of Rhode Island and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Roger William's University. In addition, he completed coursework last year to earn a Master of Science degree in administration of justice and homeland security from Salve Regina University.
Since joining the Warwick force in 1995, Rathbun has worked his way through the ranks. He served at various times as a department training officer, and was a member of the crisis negotiation team for 10 years, serving as team leader from 2009 to 2015.
In August, Rathbun was appointed as Warwick's emergency management director. He updated the city's emergency response plan and coordinated several multi-agency responses. Warwick Mayor Joseph J. Solomon said that such experience was just one example of why Rathbun was chosen to lead the department.
“Throughout these incidents, Chief Rathbun demonstrated his ability to stay calm under pressure and effectively coordinate responses among multiple municipal departments in order to ensure that our residents were safe and impacts to the community were as minimal as possible,” Solomon said. “With several very qualified candidates, both within and outside the department, that I considered, the exemplary job he has been doing in his dual roles as major and EMA Director was a deciding factor in my decision."
Over the years, Rathbun has been awarded six second-class commendations, five third-class commendations, 21 recognition ribbons and an honorable service recognition. He was also honored with the American Legion Outstanding Public Service Award and currently serves as vice chairman of the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission.
As he takes on his new role, Rathbun said his top priority would be to continue expanding the partnership between officers and the community. One of the examples is a television show, "Live PD."
"It's given our officers a chance to show their personality," the chief said. "What we've heard since the show began — people have constantly been approaching us to talk, and it's given the department a lot more transparency. That's the type of relationship I want to continue. We get better feedback when officers are out of the cars and interacting more in the community."
Rathbun again pointed to his roots: "Growing up in Richmond or other small town, it gives you a different perspective on things. I'll never forget where I came from. It has made me who I am."