NAACP head: Search for Col. O’Donnell’s replacement should extend outside department


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island State Police will soon begin the process to replace Col. Steven O’Donnell, who announced his retirement on Thursday.

The agency has a long history of promoting from within and questions have been raised as to whether O’Donnell’s successor will be an internal candidate or someone from outside the department.

Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence branch, said he believes the search needs to go national, opening it up to more female and minority candidates.

“That doesn’t preclude that somebody inside the present Rhode Island State Police could not get the job, but they would have to compete,” he said.

The state police’s third-in-command, Lt. Col. Kevin Barry, will take over until Gov. Gina Raimondo appoints a successor.

Despite the department’s struggle to diversify, Vincent said the position should ultimately go to the best person for the job.

“If that person was the best person, I think that would be ideal,” he added. “But I don’t want to have a person of color or a woman just because they’re a person of color or a woman. Clearly there are people of color and women that are heading state police departments around the country, that perhaps would be strong candidates.”

Col. O’Donnell was renowned for a legendary work ethic and visibility across communities.

“He was everywhere and he did a great job working with many, many community leaders and community groups,” said Vincent. “We can only hope to have somebody that is as engaged.”

Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist, the state police’s former second-in-command and a protege of Col. O’Donnell, said O’Donnell was the model of integrity, a remarkable leader who treated everyone, of every rank, with respect. Winquist said he believes Lt. Col. Barry is the right person to lead the agency moving forward.

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