RIC hires new police chief

[This story was first published in the Nov. 14 issue of The Anchor as Part III of a four-part series on campus security at Rhode Island College.]

Sitting in an office adorned with commendations from his career with the FBI, new Campus Police Chief Fred Ghio said he finally feels relaxed and confident in his latest role in law enforcement. Given his background, there’s no reason he shouldn’t feel that way.

Fred Ghio participates in Operaton Safe Haven on the RIC campus on Oct. 21, 2011.
Ghio, who came to Rhode Island College to serve as deputy chief and assistant director of security and safety in June 2006, spent the previous 26 years fulfilling various roles with the FBI. The 59-year-old officially took over as chief on Sept. 20, after serving for over a year as interim chief. His predecessor, Chief Cyrille Cote, worked for Campus Police for 18 years before retiring in August 2010.

“I feel a lot better now having the job,” said Ghio, who as interim chief presided over one of the largest replacement programs of the force’s equipment in department history.

Like CCRI and URI, Campus Police’s 18 officers are all sworn, having full arrest power and training via the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy. But, unlike other colleges and universities in the state that have sworn personnel, RIC’s police force is not supplemented by non-sworn “security officers,” making the department unique among campus security forces in Rhode Island.

Ghio’s promotion to chief opens up the position of deputy chief, which will be filled at an undetermined point in the future. The department has also had a perennial opening at the position of captain, and lacks dispatchers, which Ghio cites as one of the issues he would like to address as the new department head.

Presently, the dispatch role is fulfilled by one of the department’s four lieutenants, who are essentially stuck in the station, located in Browne Hall, to answer phones and radio traffic, and cannot directly venture out to supervise the officers on duty.

While filling open positions remains a priority for Ghio, he said he’s proud of the department’s acquisition of new equipment over the last year, including a $50,000 upgrade to the radio system, an increase from 19 to 39 Blue Light emergency phones on campus and the replacement of the department’s fleet of patrol cars, which now number six and will continue to be upgraded incrementally on an annual basis. By next spring, he said the cars will feature new laptops and reporting systems connected to statewide law-enforcement networks.

As part of the upgrade, the college has adorned the department’s equipment and vehicles with flashy new logos, provided new uniforms for officers and acquired police bicycles, which were donated by the Lincoln Police Department. Even the station, which, as Ghio described to The Anchor last year, was “depressing, moldy and full of old rugs,” received a facelift, including flat-screen monitors and a new dispatch desk.

As interim director of the department, Ghio oversaw the planning and implementation of a major regional emergency response exercise on campus, Operation Education Safe Haven – the first in RIC’s history. The exercise included three events: a conference with various collegiate law enforcement agencies from across the Northeast, including Virginia Tech, a table-top emergency response exercise and, most recently, an on-campus, active-shooter response exercise involving multiple law enforcement agencies, including Providence police, Rhode Island state police, FEMA and the FBI.

While local law enforcement arrived at the exercise 2-3 minutes after the initial reporting of simulated violence at RIC, Campus Police were on the scene “in seconds,” Ghio said, which is a problem considering Campus Police officers cannot carry firearms on duty.

“Two to three minutes in a gunfight is an eternity,” Ghio said, making the case for arming his Campus Police force.

While the exercise only involved the activation of the campus’s emergency notification system on an isolated area of East Campus, a real emergency event would include locking down the entire campus, including requiring students in the residence halls to remain in their rooms with their doors locked, Ghio said.

If students were registered as part of the campus emergency response network, they received a text message alert during the exercise, however enrollment in the system is not mandatory.

“A lot of students have not opted into the program, which is not a good thing,” Ghio said.

Emergencies at RIC are also announced on the college’s website, through email blasts and via loudspeakers placed on every Blue Light emergency phone. At Providence College, where a similar program is enabled, students are automatically enrolled in the text-message system and must sign a waiver to opt out.

The exercise, which took 18 months to plan, was coordinated closely with and paid for by FEMA, and had no out-of-pocket costs to RIC, Ghio said. An after-action report by the exercise’s design team will be released soon, recommending changes to Campus Police’s operation to best deal with an on-campus crisis.

Ghio said he’d like to stay at RIC for at least another six or seven years before retiring. The new chief, who has a plaque in his office citing his “outstanding service and dedication to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, April 6, 1980 – June 3, 2006,” said he’s literally leaped from one job to another throughout his career, retiring from the FBI on a Friday and starting at RIC the following Monday.

After attending St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, Conn., his hometown, Ghio graduated with a degree in history from Holy Cross in 1974, having been active in the Navy ROTC program. He served as a naval officer from when he graduated until 1980, including time spent on a destroyer and as a teacher for the officer candidate school at Naval Station Newport.

Ghio switched from his naval service to the FBI on “almost the same day,” he said, resigning his commission as a lieutenant commander and starting his FBI career immediately thereafter.

He became a special agent in the FBI, initially assigned to organized crime units in Providence. He served in that capacity from 1980-2001, including a 12-year stint specializing in a narcotics task force.

After Sept. 11, the FBI reassigned Ghio to counterterrorism, where he mostly worked in overseeing anti-terrorism operations at T. F. Green Airport.

“Counter-terrorism is almost like organized crime,” Ghio said. “It’s about getting people to talk to you, overseeing informants, gathering intelligence… they’re all very similar ways in dealing with cases.”

He has been married for 36 years and has three daughters, two of whom are special education teachers. All three graduated from PC.

One, a physician’s assistant, lives “six doors down from [New England Patriots’ quarterback] Tom Brady’s condo,” said the proud father and avid local sports fan.

Ghio said he has always envisioned a career in public service.

“I knew what I wanted to do in my life at an early age,” said Ghio, whose father was a deputy fire chief.

“My wife says I was an old man at 10 years old,” he said. “It was amazing, really, that what I thought about being growing up actually happened.”

Ghio said he’s not only happy with his new job as chief, but also with the support he’s received from the college administration.

“President Carriuolo and Vice President Gearhart have been tremendous in anything we need here,” he said.

The administration couldn’t be happier to have a law enforcement veteran like Ghio heading up RIC’s security and safety department, either.

“I found Fred to be a competent, dedicated professional who brought to the position what I consider to be the appropriate balance of public safety and law enforcement experience,” said William Gearhart, vice president for administration and finance, in an email.

He continued, “His many years as an FBI agent in Rhode Island provided him with a strong working knowledge of local, state and federal law-enforcement operations and with many personal contacts with officials throughout the region.”

Gearhart said that Ghio’s background, combined with his experience at RIC, made him the ideal candidate to take on the role of police chief.

“I would expect that Fred will continue to take an innovative approach to ensure that the department functions in the best possible fashion to accommodate the college’s security, safety and law-enforcement needs,” he said.

Athletic Director Don Tencher, who has taken an expanded role at RIC in overseeing Campus Police and the college’s facilities and operations department, likewise had nothing but praise for the college’s new security and safety director.

“Fred is a very capable law enforcement administrator who brings many strengths to the table here at RIC,” Tencher said. “I am confident that he can provide the leadership that we will rely on as we strive for continued excellence with our Campus Police department and a campus that is safe for all.”