Every career begins somewhere, and the chief of University of Rhode Island Police, Stephen Baker, Â began his career as the first police major the university has ever seen.
Baker, who is also the director of public safety, had his first policing job at the Westerly Police Department in Westerly, Rhode Island. He said that he became interested in police work after he had taken a class in criminalistics at the Community College of Rhode Island.
“As part of my project, I looked at a Westerly Police murder case,” Baker said. “And I got very interested in the police profession after that and that’s when I decided to try out for police officer positions.”
After 26 years at the Westerly Police Department, Baker retired as Chief of Police in 2004 and began looking for another policing job. Around the same time, URI Police was looking to add more supervisory positions and added the position of Police Major. This job attracted Baker because it wouldn’t require him and his, at the time, young family to move from their home in Westerly as other police residencies would. He applied and was hired in March of 2005, becoming URI’s first Police Major.
“I didn’t know a lot about the police department before I got here,” Baker said. “But at the time we had two captains that were very helpful in orienting me to the university and to the police department itself, and I soon discovered that the police here do pretty much the same as police officers anywhere.”
He also said that he believes it is a more difficult job working for a campus because of the demographics and more oversight to the police.
“I think we need to be very transparent about our positions and there has to be accountability for everything we do,” Baker said. “I think that’s a good thing and I think that’s what we’re striving for, transparency and accountability.”
In 2012, the former director retired and Baker became the interim director before being offered the position of director in 2014. Baker knew that the department wanted to look into arming the police. He looked at it as a challenge, and in 2015, URI Police were armed.
“I think the arming issue was an accomplishment that took quite a while, but it was worth it,” Baker said. “Now our police officers are trained to be first respondents, not only for an active shooting situation, but anything involving a weapon.”
He said that now he is working toward educating the community about safety. Police work is much more than what people often believe, and for Baker, one of his favorite memories of his career was outside work duty when the community police officers held a dodgeball tournament last fall semester.
“We put a team together and we played against a number of student groups and it was a lot of fun,” Baker said. “I think it is indicative of the way the new major wants to shape the police force as a more community police oriented department, which I wholeheartedly support.”
Baker added that it has been a pleasure working in the department as the first major and now the director. He said he gets to work with a lot of hard working people within and outside of the university, which he enjoys doing.
“It’s been a really good experience, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Baker said. “I like meeting new people and working on providing safety for the community.”