BARRINGTON, R.I. — Police Sergeant Gino Caputo wore a faint smile as a new police chief and a rookie officer were sworn into the department where he’d been serving for 27 years.
Caputo, a member of the honor guard, stood with his fellow officers and their new chief at the Aug. 2 ceremony, and were photographed together for what ended up being the last time.
Three days later, Caputo and several other Barrington officers working the midnight shift tested positive for COVID-19. Caputo became sick enough to be hospitalized. He never returned.
On Saturday, with his wife Cindy at his side, Caputo succumbed to the deadly virus.
His death shocked and devastated his loved ones and fellow officers, who remembered his kindness and dedication to his family and his job.
“He was a very thoughtful, generous person,” said Lieutenant Kevin Igoe, who had known Caputo since they both entered the Municipal Police Training Academy in 1994. “He was a workhorse. He never used a sick day, had a sense of pride and work ethic you don’t see anymore. It’s going to be impossible to replace him at the police department.”
Although most of the Barrington officers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Caputo had decided not to get the vaccine, said Chief Michael Correia. “I truly believe and respect that he has the right to make that decision, and I respect the decision he made,” Correia said.
Caputo was healthy and physically fit, a certified physical assessor for police officers who, at age 58, took pride in meeting the agility requirements of officers half his age.
“We thought if anyone would pull through this, it would be him,” said Igoe.
Nationally, COVID-19 has killed more law enforcement officers in the first six months of this year than any other cause, according to preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. There were 71 officers who died of COVID-19 from January to June 30, the memorial fund said.
There’s no statewide tracking of how many Rhode Island law enforcement officers have become infected or hospitalized with COVID-19. The virus killed correctional officer Lieutenant Russell Freeman and Foster police dispatcher Patrick Dragon, a former firefighter and Connecticut state trooper.
Caputo appears to be the first on-duty police officer in Rhode Island to die from COVID-19. The chief said that Caputo’s illness motivated at least one other officer to get the vaccine.
Caputo had grown up in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence, where he married his wife, Cindy, in the iconic Holy Ghost Church on Knight Street. He was 31 years old with a master’s degree when he joined the department, telling a Providence Journal reporter at the time that he’d wanted to be a police officer since he was a child.
Caputo eventually became the senior sergeant, attaining the rank and badge No. 5.
“He really enjoyed the role as a mentor and teacher of the younger officers,” Correia said.
Caputo was the one who worked the holiday shifts so officers with young families could be home, Igoe said. He ran the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics across the small town, sometimes through Warren, too, if there were no officers available for the relay.
Caputo worked the night shift throughout his career, because it allowed him to spend days with his family.
Although he didn’t have children, Caputo was known for his gentle nature. “He was so caring and so generous to nieces and nephews, the running thought in Barrington was if you had a child, you wanted Gino to be the godfather,” Correia said.
On Monday, the chief went through Caputo’s personnel file, nearly 2 inches thick with commendations and letters of gratitude. They came from police departments where Caputo had gone as part of an honor guard, from town officials and local residents who’d encountered Caputo in town. One woman wrote a thank you to Caputo — he’d stopped her for speeding, but let her off with a warning, and she wanted the police department to know that she appreciated his professionalism.
Black bunting was draped over the front bumper of his police cruiser, parked in front of the station. People left bouquets of flowers on the windshield.
And, law enforcement honor guards across Rhode Island were preparing to be there for Caputo’s wake and funeral. Just as he had done for others.
Calling hours are from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Nardolillo Funeral Home, 1278 Park Ave. in Cranston.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Holy Ghost Church in Providence. Caputo will be buried at St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston.