The longest-standing member of the University of Rhode Island’s police department has had many experiences with the community that have made him grow as a person and in his career.
Since he started working for the department on May 21, 1978, Capt. John Carey has been the most senior officer at URI. The university’s campus police force is the first and only force that he has worked for. Carey said that his greatest lesson during his time here has been to listen, and hopes that he has followed through with his own advice.
“I hope I’ve brought that nurturing feeling to, not just the students, but the people that are part of this community and not part of the community,” Carey said. “And I just hope I listened before I reacted. If I had a chance to listen, I always ask that I took that chance, took that time to listen.”
“There’s an old oddity that I try to live by, and it goes ‘Listen twice, speak once.’ Sometimes we don’t listen enough… If you’re a good listener, you’re a good helper. It’s a quality that I think we all should strive for, and I hope I did.”
Carey has had many memorable moments at the university and said that there are some that stick with him. One Christmas Eve night from approximately 25 years ago still sticks out to him the most.
“Sometimes it’s not good,” he said. “Helping someone out on Christmas Eve night, [who was] trying to find a place to stay in Christ the King Church parking lot, as the snow came down. We found a place for that person to stay… It’s in my memory many times. Because a person is standing in the parking lot, and people from the Christ the King parish there call you and just say ‘What do you think you can do?’ We did find somewhere for that person to stay, at least until the next day.”
In Carey’s office a framed picture by his favorite artist, Norman Rockwell, hangs behind his desk. The work is titled “Runaway,” and shows a police officer sitting and talking with a young boy who is running away from home at a diner.
Carey said that though some things have changed in the picture, such as the diner’s bartender smoking a cigarette behind the counter, he wishes those kinds of conversations would stay the same. He said that he wishes there were more opportunities like this for police officers and civilians to interact, though it has become more rare in recent times with the nationally-heard police conflicts.
“As you get older, I have adult children now so they’re all adults, the mind frame changes a little bit,” Carey said. “I don’t look at how old your child is because you’re always a parent, no matter how the child grows older. So I always see the students as, I know they’re young adults, but they’re like [children]… If I can treat them like a child of mine, and listen, listen to their needs, it goes a long way.”
Born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Carey moved to South Kingstown with his family when he was 8 years old. He considers South Kingstown and the URI area to be his hometown, since he graduated from South Kingstown High School in 1976 and has lived and worked here most of his life.
Carey did not always want to be a police officer, and said that he “sort of stumbled into it.” His first full-time job was working with textiles at Hamilton Web Co.’s Mill in North Kingstown. Afterward, he worked for General Dynamics, also in North Kingstown, as a burner grinder; using hand torches and grinding metal from within submarines.
His father had also worked in the textile industry, but after an injury that prevented him from continuing with the trade, he went to work as a public property patrol officer. Carey also started in this classification, one of many security positions which no longer exist, and was essentially a watchman.
Carey slowly made his way through the ranks from watchman duties, when he was just 19, to earn his current title as a university police captain. Through his many jobs before URI and his many positions within the department, Carey has stayed because of the opportunities for interaction that come with the job.
“It’s a different trade, and you deal with people’s lives every day,” Carey said. “And that’s a blessing. I’m able to connect with people, whether it’s something that’s tragic in their life or good. That’s a totally different environment. It’s allowed me to be able to have some interest in what comes next, day to day… That’s what the job’s about.”