This column has been revised to indicate that Westerly Police Chief Richard Silva was appointed in November 2016.
Cpl. Shawn Lacey stood across the street from the crowd gathered on the steps of Westerly Town Hall in support of “outsider” police chief Bruno Giulini, who had been under pressure to resign — mostly for being an outsider.
“We’ll never have an outsider as chief,” Lacey said. He was looking at the crowd and said it into the night air more than to anyone, though he was standing next to me and we had just been talking about the issue. My pen and pad were out and he was aware his comment likely would be recorded for the record. He didn’t care. There was no quick, “that was off the record,” recovery.
That was 1999 and the police union, which Lacey would go on to lead for years, was undone by the selection of an outsider as chief. There is an order to these things and that order had been interrupted by Giulini’s selection. You join the ranks, climb the ladder and at the top you get to grab the brass ring that is the chief’s position and the salary and pension that go with it.
It’s not bad to promote from within, but it shouldn’t be scripted either. In Westerly, it’s an unwritten script when it comes to the police department, and Lacey’s due for his starring role. Problem is, the Giulini factor is again at play, with chief Richard Silva, formerly the chief in Warwick, having been selected by Town Manager Derrik Kennedy, himself an outsider in a role also previously reserved for insiders only. And he certainly has critics.
That night in 1999 shows that Silva and Kennedy are marked men, make no mistake.
Back then, the council ordered Town Manager Ernest Zmyslinski to fire Giulini, but he didn’t. So they fired Zmyslinski. Then they appointed themselves as a seven-member body to serve as town manager and fired Giulini. That was in October 1999, and he was reinstated by court order but resigned March 1, 2000. He went on to serve as chief of the Groton City department for a decade.
All the recent maneuvering on the Town Council is interesting with this history providing perspective.
Fast forward to November 2016 when Silva was appointed. Lacey was interim chief and a finalist for the job having served as captain. We liked Lacey as interim chief. He understood the need to talk to the press, and many in that brotherhood don’t. Open communication with the press gives the local force the credit it deserves for making arrests and solving crimes when we write about them with solid details.
We even think he’d make a good chief in many respects. We’d question whether a rookie from Roxbury would be promoted over a former Westerly High Bulldog who played football even if the outsider was clearly more qualified, but in many areas he’d probably be good — knows the town, the issues, the bad boys, the good boys. Of course he also knows the good old boys and family connections. Not always good.
Familiarity in a position like that can be good and bad. I’d bet that Lacey will be chief sooner rather than later, for all the good — and bad — that comes with this kind of script.