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Providence’s longest-serving police chief was totally fascinating

Providence, R.I.'s longest-serving police chief, Benjamin Ham Child, was wounded three times in the Civil War and earned the Medal of Honor.Courtesy of Robert Grandchamp

NEW: It’s the last day on the job for Providence Police Chief Colonel Hugh Clements, and Deputy Chief Oscar Perez will be the acting chief until a new chief is selected (you can learn more about him here).

Now for a little fun.

Clements is the second longest-serving police chief in Providence history, with more than 11 years on the job. The longest-serving chief was Benjamin Ham Child, who led the department from 1880 until 1896.

It’s safe to say Child might have also been the most fascinating chief in the city’s history.

He was wounded three times in the Civil War, and earned the Medal of Honor for his heroism at the Battle of Antietam.


Robert Grandchamp, who has written several fascinating books about Rhode Island’s role in the Civil War, sent me this fantastic photo of Child as he made his way home from the war.

Providence, R.I.'s longest-serving police chief, Benjamin Ham Child, in battle dress as he headed home from the Civil War.Courtesy of Robert Grandchamp

As chief, it turns out that Child was among the leading advocates in the country for creating a pension system for disabled police officers. In “Social History and Social Policy,” David J. Rothman and Stanton Wheeler write that Child told the City Council in 1892 that most patrolmen were “unfit for duty after 20 or 25 years of service.”

Over at the city archives, Caleb Horton and his excellent team went on a scavenger hunt for me to try to find records of Child’s tenure as chief.

Sure enough, in 1892, a joint resolution of the City Council asks the city solicitor to seek legislation from the state to create a pension fund for disabled police officers.

A joint resolution of the Providence, R.I., City Council in 1892 sought to establish a pension system for disabled police officers at the request of then-Chief of Police Benjamin Ham Child.Providence City Archives

As we all know with city business, these things can take time. And Child didn’t get his way before departing as police chief. In 1895, a committee that was studying the creation of a pension system for the city chose to indefinitely postpone the proposal.


Of course, Child was a winner in the end. Eventually a pension system was adopted, not just for disabled police, but for all municipal workers. Clements is retiring after more than 37 years on the job with a healthy pension (and a new gig in Washington, D.C.).

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.