Col. Michael J. Winquist, the current second-in-command of the Rhode Island State Police, has been announced as Mayor Allan Fung’s selection to serve as the next chief of the Cranston Police Department.
“I am honored and humbled to stand before you today,” Winquist said during an introductory press conference at City Hallon Aug. 28. “I want to thank Mayor Fung for demonstrating faith and confidence in me to lead this department at a critical juncture … this is the pinnacle of my law enforcement career.”
“Today marks the beginning of a brighter future for the men and women of the Cranston Police Department with a leader who will uphold the guiding principles of law enforcement – duty, service, honor, respect,” Fung said while introducing his selection.
Winquist, of Barrington, is a 24-year state police veteran who currently serves as deputy superintendent and chief of field operations. He was chosen to serve as the deputy to State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell in 2013.
Winquist received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Roger Williams University and his master’s degree in criminal justice from Anna Maria College. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
He began his career as a trooper in the 1990s, moving up through the ranks to become a detective and spending time with a number of major crimes units, including those focused on organized crime, narcotics and financial crimes.
Winquist has also served on the Providence Police Gang Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Task Force. Perhaps most significant among his achievements has been his role in the establishment of Rhode Island’s Fusion Center, an intelligence-sharing outfit funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Winquist was chosen from a field of six applicants, all from outside the Cranston department. Finalists were picked in July. The precise number of candidates who made the last round of consideration was not specified, and none of the applicants had been publicly identified prior to the presentation of Winquist.
The members of the selection committee that reviewed the applicants and recommended finalists to the mayor were Chief of Staff Carlos Lopez, Director of Administration Gerald Cordy, South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia, New Shoreham Police Chief Vincent Carlone, attorney Christopher Stowe and NAACP Providence branch president James Vincent.
All but Vespia and Vincent were on hand for the Aug. 28 press conference. Also present were Winquist’s wife, Andrea; State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell; Patrolman Robert Santagata, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 301; Cranston’s acting chief, State Police Capt. Kevin Barry; his second-in-command, State Police Lt. Matthew Moynihan; a number of Cranston police officers; and Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio.
Santagata, who was chosen to lead the union in June, said the city’s police personnel are “excited” by Winquist’s selection. He spoke highly of Barry’s leadership and the state police’s presence in the Cranston department.
The last several months of questions and controversy surrounding the department have been “challenging to say the least,” he said, although the additional attention and scrutiny has not affected officers in the field.
“The media, no offense, drags us through the mud … all we want to do is move forward,” he said.
Santagata did point to the fact that the union is currently working without a contract, and said that issue will need to be addressed.
Barry, who has received glowing reviews from many for his stewardship of the Cranston department, said he has known Winquist for roughly 20 years and worked both with and for his colleague.
“It’s a great day for the Cranston Police Department,” he said. “He’s a solid guy. He’s going to do well here.”
O’Donnell declined comment, deferring any attention to Winquist.
“It’s Mike’s day,” he said.
Winquist’s appointment will be subject to approval by the City Council. The target date for his swearing-in is Oct. 1, with the council’s advise and consent process – including a special council meeting to introduce the appointment, a hearing before the Finance Committee and a decision by the full council – expected to take roughly one month. Barry and Moynihan will remain until the new chief is officially in place.
Col. Marco Palombo Jr., Cranston’s former chief, was placed on paid leave in January and then briefly reinstated in March for the purpose of submitting his retirement.
Winquist’s appointment would be unique in two respects. The first, as Fung noted, is that it would mark the first time “in recent memory” that a chief has come from outside the city and its police force.
The council previously passed a resolution calling for an outside hire, and Fung at the press conference said he had reached the same conclusion based on his own deliberations. The council during the search process approved a civil service rule change to ensure the outside selection was allowed.
Winquist would also become the first police chief to take part in a 401(k) retirement plan rather than a traditional pension, Fung said.
“He has signaled a true commitment to serve and protect both the public safety and financial interest of the residents of our city by participating in a 401(k) plan,” the mayor said.
Winquist is retiring from the state police as part of the move to Cranston. Fung said the details of the salary and benefits package offered to and accepted by Winquist will be presented to the council as part of its approval process.
If appointed, Winquist will also have the opportunity to fill a pair of major’s positions currently open within the department.
“It is his department. And he’s going to have that opportunity,” the mayor said.
“They’re going to be critical,” Winquist said of the positions, adding that he will look for internal candidates.
Fung, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, dismissed the suggestion that politics played any role in the Winquist announcement or its timing. Ken Block, Fung’s opponent in the Sept. 9 primary vote, has been highly critical of the mayor’s handling of the Cranston department.
“It’s not about politics at all, and it’s not about my run for governor,” Fung said. He said Winquist has an “impressive resume and a record of service that fits with the needs of the department,” and the “requisite experience, leadership and personality to unite the department.”
“What I also like is his willingness to have an open dialogue” with officers and community, the mayor added, “because our city is changing.”
Winquist, for his part, did not specifically address the controversies of recent months, but did reference the “culture of change” Barry and Moynihan have fostered.
“My goal is to continue to unify the rank and file of this police department,” he said. “Division only weakens this agency as a whole. You have my promise that every member of the Cranston Police Department will be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of rank, position or prior relationships. Nothing less will be tolerated, especially those who have been entrusted with positions of authority or command.”
“This will only be accomplished through my commitment to being an approachable and visible police chief, accessible to all people who live and work in this city,” he later added. “I assure you that community engagement and professionalism will be the cornerstone of this department.”
The last nine months have been a difficult time for the department. In December, councilmen Steven Stycos and Paul Archetto made public their belief that their wards had been blanketed with parking tickets after a November vote against a new contract with the city’s police union.
Fung’s administration at the time said an internal investigation was under way, but in the weeks following the councilmen’s disclosure, pressure mounted for an outside review.
The mayor at one point announced a New Jersey-based private investigator would be employed to review the internal probe’s findings. Then, in January – shortly before the council was set to take up a resolution calling for state police involvement – the mayor announced Palombo had been placed on leave and that the state police had been asked to investigate the ticketing allegations, provide temporary leadership and conduct a comprehensive overview of the department’s operations and several personnel matters.
Palombo was cleared in the ticketing scandal. In April, Fung announced the investigation had concluded that Cranston Capt. Stephen Antonucci, then president of the police union, had ordered the ticket blitz. He was charged with seven counts of misconduct, with a recommendation that his employment be terminated. The case is expected to go before a hearing as outlined under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
Since the emergence of the ticketing allegations, other personnel matters tied to Palombo’s tenure have garnered renewed attention. Among those is the case of Capt. Todd Patalano, who recently filed a federal lawsuit against Fung, Palombo and others alleging a violation of his constitutional rights.
Patalano, who returned from roughly two years of paid leave earlier this year, has publicly asserted that Palombo unfairly targeted him with disciplinary charges as part of a personal vendetta.
The chief search itself was also the subject of some controversy. The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers at one point criticized the process as being “severely lacking in inclusiveness.” Fung had subsequently pointed to a revision in the wording of the job posting meant to open the position up to more qualified women and people of color.