SCITUATE — Hinting broadly that he may soon return to public life, perhaps as a political candidate, State Police Col. Brendan Doherty announced Thursday that he is retiring effective April 1.
Both Doherty and Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s office denied that friction between Doherty and Chafee — who were at odds over the Providence Police Department’s decision to opt out of the federal Secure Communities Program — led to Doherty’s seemingly abrupt decision to step down.
“I have no information about any tension between the governor and Colonel Doherty,” Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor said after Doherty’s announcement at a press conference at the new State Police headquarters building. Trainor said Chafee was “surprised at the timing” of the announcement but had thought Doherty might be considering other options. He said Chafee “wished Colonel Doherty well.”
With his wife and daughter in the room, as well as several State Police detectives, Doherty told reporters who were prodding him to discuss his disagreements with Chafee that “I have a lot of respect for the governor,” noted that the governor reappointed him as head of the State Police, and said “I feel I had the requisite support” from Chafee.
He described the noontime meeting at which he submitted his resignation to Chafee as “cordial and professional.”
Doherty, 52, said he had considered retiring at the end of last year, but decided to stay on for at least a few months to lead the department into the new administration.
He paused at the podium briefly and appeared to choke up when he said, “I’m very happy. It was time for me to move on. I put my heart and soul into this job.
This is actually the second time Doherty has retired from the State Police. He was the lieutenant colonel when he retired in 2004, but then-Gov. Donald Carcieri brought him back as the superintendent in 2007. All told, he has been with the State Police for 28 years, the last four as colonel.
Trainor said Chafee “has someone in mind” to succeed Doherty and could announce that choice as soon as today.
“In the future, I may plan to join back into the public forum once again,” Doherty said at the end of his announcement, “that being said, I will have just as strong a voice, hopefully, as I do here today.”
Doherty, a Cumberland resident, is widely thought to be a possible challenger to either U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse or Rep. David Cicilline in 2012, but he steadfastly refused to entertain those rumors Thursday. He said only that he will “weigh my options in the coming weeks” and make a decision about his future in public life soon, perhaps at the end of May. He promised to make an announcement “at the appropriate time.”
Asked about his political affiliation — whether he is a Republican or Democrat — Doherty said it would not be appropriate to answer political questions at State Police headquarters during his retirement announcement.
Doherty did not wear his State Police uniform to the press conference, but instead wore a dark blue suit with a white shirt and bright red tie — often the uniform of a politician.
He stressed that one of the issues most important to him, one he discussed with Chafee Thursday, is who his successor would be. “It is important for me to know when I move on that this department is in good hands,” he said. Doherty said he and the governor “had a good conversation about a couple of people” and that “I’m confident we will have the right person as my successor.”
If a new colonel is not in place by April 1, Doherty said, the current second in command, Lt. Col. Raymond White, will take charge on a temporary basis.
Doherty said in response to a question that he has “no regrets,” looking back on his law enforcement career. After earlier mentioning such successes as presiding over the largest cocaine and U.S. currency seizure in Rhode Island history, as well as the largest child pornography case and racking up the largest number of driving under the influence arrests in a two-year span, he was asked what is his proudest achievement, he made reference to numerous organized crime and public corruption cases then said, “I once returned a stolen dog to a little kid and brought put a smile to her face, that was rewarding to me.”
He said he was proud of the fact that there were no union grievances filed during his time as superintendent.
Doherty didn’t back down from statements he made about the Secure Communities program, which calls for police departments to forward the fingerprints of people they arrest to the federal Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to determine whether they are in the country legally. He criticized the stand taken by his predecessor as superintendent, now
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, who said Providence would opt out of the program, as “dangerous and irresponsible.”
“I made some public comments about that and I stand by my comments,” Doherty said. “Leaders stand up in controversy and that’s what I did. I will continue to on any issues that I think we need some leadership to step up, I will do that.”
He said his stand is “a law enforcement position, it’s a common sense position” because the program deals with “in custody arrests.”
Asked if the governor was unhappy with his comments, Doherty drew laughter when he deadpanned, “probably.”
As to whether he was dressed down by the governor, Doherty replied, “I say this with all humility, I won’t allow somebody to dress me down. It didn’t happen.”
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a retired Pawtucket police officer, issued a statement Thursday that said: "Colonel Doherty is one of our finest law enforcement officials who has earned the respect and trust of his colleagues and the citizens of Rhode Island. His commitment to upholding the law and protecting our communities is unparalleled. His resignation is a terrible loss for the law enforcement community and for the state of Rhode Island. Our offices have worked well together, and I look forward to seeking his advice and counsel in the future on law enforcement issues."