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Providence Police leadership changing as new mayor comes in

Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré and Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. will be stepping down, Mayor-elect Brett Smiley’s transition team announced Tuesday.

Providence Police chief Hugh T Clements Jr., left, and Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré. The two men have held the city’s top public safety positions for nearly a dozen years each, and under two mayors.Amanda Milkovits/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The city’s two top public safety officials will be leaving as new Mayor Brett Smiley begins his term.

Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré is retiring, effective Jan. 2. Smiley does not plan to fill that role immediately.

Although he was asked to stay, Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. is also leaving to pursue another opportunity, Smiley’s transition team announced Tuesday. Clements will remain to assist with the department’s transition; his departure date was not disclosed.

“Our city has come a long way under the leadership of Commissioner Paré and Chief Clements, who together have served the people of Providence for over 40 years,” Smiley said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “They have worked tirelessly and put Providence on the map for one of the best community policing strategies in the country. We thank them for their decades of service and wish them the best in their next endeavors.”

Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Clements said that he hadn’t intended to leave, but he was offered a “tremendous” opportunity on a national level. He declined to reveal the new position, but said it would be announced at a later date.

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“I didn’t want to leave. I’m so torn,” Clements said. “This is a great department, a great city, but you can’t stay forever.”

He received advice from close family and friends, including his “spiritual adviser,” Ed Cooley, coach of the Providence College men’s basketball team.

“He spoke to me like I was one of his players and said it was the right thing,” Clements said. “He said, ‘I know you love the city of Providence like I do, I know how hard it is to consider leaving, but this is the time. You have to.’”

Clements is the department’s second-longest serving chief since it was established in 1864, and unlike some of the chiefs he served under over the last 37 years, he is leaving the department on his own terms.

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He joined in 1985 and rose through the ranks, working within nearly every bureau in the department, including serving as vice president of the union and as an administrator. He said he hopes that hard work will be his legacy. “I think it breeds hope that if I just work hard and work my way through this department, I will have the opportunity to ascend through the ranks,” Clements said Tuesday.

However, Clements said, he hadn’t truly known one unavoidable aspect of the police chief’s job. “I was never prepared for the politics of it,” he said. “The hardest part was the underbelly of the politics of the city.”

He said he hopes part of his legacy will be the connections he made between the police and the people they serve. He’ll be part of Smiley’s transition in selecting a new chief.

If he could give his successor any advice, Clements said, he would say: “Be true to the men and women who are out there working for you. You need to be multifaceted and serve many people, leadership, the City Council, community leaders, the people in community, and the men and women who do the work you are directing them to do.”

Clements and Paré have held the city’s top public safety positions for nearly a dozen years each, and under two mayors.

“Twelve years seems so long ago, and it seems like yesterday,” said Paré, who is now 62.

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Paré's retirement will end a more than 40-year career in law enforcement in Rhode Island. He joined the Rhode Island State Police when he was 20, following his father, retired state police captain Edward Paré.

Paré rose through the state police ranks, gaining a reputation for integrity. As a detective, he dug into corruption scandals in Pawtucket City Hall, embezzlement during the credit union crisis, and the case of international money-launderer Stephen Saccoccia.

When he was appointed to serve as its colonel, Paré was the third superintendent — and the youngest — in the agency’s history. He launched the state police’s first diversity mini-academies to encourage minorities and women to apply to be troopers, and he oversaw the creation of the state’s first fusion center for intelligence gathering. And, he pushed for stronger gun laws and advocated for preventing drunken driving.

He led the state police for five years under then-Governor Lincoln Almond, and then-Governor Donald Carcieri, then retired after 26 years. He worked for GTECH Holdings Corp., the Providence-based global lottery operator, and three years later, was appointed by new Mayor Angel Taveras to fill the long-vacant commissioner’s position overseeing the city’s police, fire, communications and emergency management departments.

“I had to build trust, particularly coming from the state police — it’s the natural competitive relationship,” Paré said. “They welcomed me and I hope in my service proved to them that I was there for the sake of public safety and the profession. That’s all I tried to do.”

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That position made him a supervisor of then-Police Chief Dean M. Esserman, who had been his equal as a fellow police colonel.

Their pairing was short-lived. Esserman resigned in June 2011, and Clements was made the acting chief. By 2012, Clements was chief.

Where Esserman had been abrasive, Clements was mild-mannered, respected and known for working quietly and effectively within and outside the department. A lifelong Providence cop, he has a reputation for being able to diplomatically speak truth to power and lead through tumultuous times.

“We hit it off in personalities, in our strengths and weaknesses, and we spoke often. I’m always grateful for him, and what we were able to accomplish,” Paré said.

Under their leadership, the department became the largest New England agency to become nationally accredited, and was the first in Rhode Island — and one of the first in New England — to begin using body-worn cameras. They successfully increased diversity in hiring police officers and sought to improve relationships with communities in the city. Violent crime in the city fell to historic lows during their tenure. Both men said they were especially proud of changing the department’s culture by emphasizing de-escalation tactics and restraint.

“There’s more to be accomplished and we pray the leadership continues with that success, in bringing in a diverse recruit class and concentrating on crime, violent crime and crime that affects people every day,” Paré said.

Where Paré was still seen as an outsider and the one closest to political wrangling by virtue of the commissioner’s role, Clements was the cop, closer to the streets and the rank-and-file. He had once commanded the toughest district in the city, and he could get the respect of the City Council when the department needed support.

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“I’m going to really miss him,” said Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, who represents the city’s Ward 11 in South Providence and the West End. “I’m going to miss sitting down and brainstorming with [Clements] on the issues.”

Harris came to know Clements when he was a sergeant and vice president of the police union and she was an activist fighting against police brutality. Back in 2001, Clements served on a statewide commission established to examine the fatal shooting of an off-duty Black officer, Sergeant Cornel Young Jr., by two white officers, and to recommend ways to prevent friendly-fire deaths and mend the relationships between police and the communities they serve.

Even then, in the heated aftermath of Young’s tragic death, Harris said she saw Clements’ sincerity and willingness to work with people. She said his work has helped lead the department to make significant changes.

“I wish him the best, he’s a very intelligent man and worked hard,” Harris said. “We have relationships built over the years, but everybody has a right to continue to grow. If it feels like if this is a great opportunity for him, why not?”

For the police union, Clements’ impending departure hits hard.

“He was a cop’s cop,” said Officer Michael Imondi, president of the Providence police union.

The union and the chief have had their disagreements, Imondi said, but they could be upfront with each other and speak openly.

“I’ve been through half a dozen colonels on this job, and he was the best colonel we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Imondi, who became an officer in 1995. “He’s going to be missed. When you have that open-door policy, when you’re always approachable and always can be reached — we don’t know what the future will hold with the next chief.”

The departures of the commissioner and police chief are the latest in the top ranks at the Providence Police Department. Deputy Chief Thomas Verdi, the second-in-command, retired last month after 35 years on the job. Major Oscar Perez was promoted to deputy chief.

Imondi said the city is now at a “Hurricane 5″ in determining its direction for public safety leadership, at a time when the roster is down to 410 officers and expected to fall further in the new year.

“Losing Chief Clements, as many mayors have said, he’s one of the greatest chiefs in the state, in the country,” Imondi said. “So, where do you go from there?”

This story has been updated with comments from Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, Providence Police Union president Michael Imondi, as well as from Paré and Clements.




Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.