Local News, News, Providence

Col. O’Donnell reflects on decades-long law enforcement career after announcing retirement

[anvplayer video=”1082645″] SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. Steven O’Donnell says he’s been told by law enforcement colleagues across the country that when it was time to retire, he would “just feel it.” Thursday, he took the leap and sent a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo informing her he would be retiring as the leader of the State Police and as commissioner of the R.I. Department of Public Safety, effective Sept. 23.

“There’s no reason,” he said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “I just felt it…I went from maybe 100 miles-per-hour to maybe 95, I thought. Nobody noticed, but I felt it. And I thought, I just want to be fully engaged.”

“I have come to a crossroads in my life and career,” he wrote in his retirement letter to Gov. Raimondo.

O’Donnell, who is 56, began his career with the state police in 1986, after stints with the North Kingstown Police and as a correctional officer. He did undercover work for years, at one point posing as a Providence Journal employee, and infiltrated the mob. He was honored by President Bill Clinton in 1995 as one of ten law enforcement officers to receive the “Top Cop” award.

“I’ll miss chasing wise guys,” O’Donnell said. “I loved doing that. I loved the chase. I loved the wire taps, and the bugs, and the craftiness, and trying to beat them at their own game.”

O’Donnell was appointed by President Barack Obama as U.S. Marshal for Rhode Island in 2009, and then in 2011 he was appointed by then Gov. Lincoln Chafee to be the Superintendent of the R.I. State Police. Gov. Raimondo re-appointed him when she took office in 2014.

Web Extra: O’Donnell reflects on time as Superintendent of RI State Police »
Web Extra: O’Donnell reflects on time as Superintendent of RI State Police »

But when asked about his greatest success Thursday, Col. O’Donnell didn’t name any of those accomplishments.

“I’m married, and I have three kids,” he said. “That’s pretty successful in this business.” O’Donnell has three sons, including one who works for the state police. His family had an impact on his decision to retire, as well. “My wife said to me…’when are you going to think about you?'”

When it comes to what he didn’t get to accomplish, O’Donnell referenced the relative lack of racial and gender diversity in the state police. A recent review of data showed more than 87 percent of the force is white, and more than 92 percent is male.

“I would love to have another recruit class, take another shot at diversifying the state police better,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said he doesn’t have a new job lined up, but he started putting feelers out in the last day or so. He said he’ll be looking for something soon in the private or public sector.

His passion for policing was evident as he spoke about the job he is leaving.

“It’s everything,” he said. “It’s just this outstanding uniform and stetson…it’s appearance, but what it represents is so powerful. It represents 91 years of men, women who decided to do this and serve the people of Rhode Island. Some of them lost their life doing it.”

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