KINGSTON, R.I. – July 15, 2013 – The University of Rhode Island has appointed Stephen N. Baker, a former chief of police in Westerly and URI’s first police major, to the position of director of public safety.
In his new role, the Westerly resident, who was interim public safety director for a year, will oversee police and security operations, parking services, fire and life safety, environmental health and safety, and emergency management, communications and technology. His permanent appointment took effect Sunday, July 14.
Baker moves from managing a 23-member police force to managing 54 public safety employees on the Kingston Campus (including police), and 16 security officers at the Feinstein Providence and Narragansett Bay campuses. He is also responsible for the safety and security of about 300 buildings on URI’s four campuses.
The University conducted a national search that attracted 60 applicants from across the country.
“We’ve gotten the best of the best by hiring Steve Baker,” said Robert A. Weygand, URI vice president for administration and finance. “We’ve had an absolutely flawless transition since the retirement of Bob Drapeau (as public safety director) because of Steve’s professionalism and commitment. We are thrilled to have a person of Steve’s ability and experience become director of public safety.”
Baker is also a favorite son of Westerly, having served that city’s police department from 1978 through 2004, the last two years as chief.
In 2005, Baker was named the URI Police Department’s first major, and since that time has played a major role in further professionalizing the department. He added supervisory positions to night patrols and adopted policies and procedures that conform to national accreditation standards. A graduate of Salve Regina University, earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and his master’s degree in administration of justice from the Newport school, he facilitated community policing initiatives such as “Blues and Cues,” a night of billiards and pizza for students and police, “Skate Night” at the Boss Arena and a student internship program with URI’s Talent Development.
“Thanks to Steve’s work the department is now more diverse. Five years ago, it was an all white force, but we now are training top minority and women candidates through the Municipal Police Training Academy,” Weygand said.
In fact, URI had two of the top graduates from the academy in 2011 and they now serve as patrolmen. Currently, Baker and his team are preparing three candidates for entry in the next training academy, which begins July 21. Two are women, one is a minority and two of the three are graduates of URI and one interned with the URI Police Department.
The command staff’s credentials are also strong thanks to Baker’s work in attracting leaders from other municipal departments and giving URI police veterans opportunities to take advantage of professional development. Among the leadership team, there is another former municipal chief who was also an ethics instructor at the police academy and a former municipal sergeant who has worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Also on the command staff are a 23-year veteran of the URI department who is an FBI certified firearms trainer and a certified crisis responder trainer through the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, and another veteran of the URI force who is a certified instructor for the International Police Work Dog Association, who works with the Rhode Island State Urban Search and Rescue Team.
Baker has also strengthened relationships with the South Kingstown Police Department, including joint training and event coordination, and he has used the national Incident Command System and formalized training for all URI police officers in the National Incident Management System.
“When we hired Steve as our first major in 2005, we were making a major statement about the skill level we were seeking for our police department,” said J. Vernon Wyman, assistant vice president for business services. “He will bring the same level of professionalism to his role as public safety director.”
Having been in the role for a year as interim, Baker sees the challenges in overseeing all of the public safety operations, but also sees his appointment as an honor.
“Like police work, the nature of public safety is always changing,” said Baker. “We have to be ready for the unexpected. I plan to build on our strengths, and address those areas that need additional attention.”
In his eight years at URI, Baker said he has come to greatly enjoy the academic environment.
“I like interacting with the different members of the community, the students, faculty, staff and our visitors,” he said. “Much of our police work here has similarities to community policing practices in municipalities. I enjoy the connection to academic life. I have taught a few classes here, so I have had great opportunities to get to know the students and learn about their perspectives on the job the police and other public safety personnel are doing on campus.”
In at least one way, he has a great deal in common with professors on campus.
“We have a duty to educate all members of our community and our visitors so they can be participants in ensuring their own safety and be contributors to the safety and security of the campus.”
Wyman said through Baker’s service as police major and interim public safety director, he was put in roles that required him to be ready for anything. Wyman said the public safety director is the first point of contact with URI for so many outside agencies, including the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, municipal and state police, fire and rescue departments, code enforcement agencies, state Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Steve’s many conversations and collaborations have led to strong relationships with these groups and many others,” Wyman said. “These agencies know we are ready to work well with them in responding to emergencies. These relationships are so critical.”
While Baker understands the scope of the work, the married father of seven children, three of whom attend URI, said he is eager to undertake the numerous tasks.
“URI is growing in so many dynamic ways, and I want our public safety and police functions to grow along with the entire University,” Baker said. “Thanks to the commitments of the URI administration, we are well on our way.”
Westerly resident Stephen N. Baker poses in his office after being name the University of Rhode Island’s new public safety director. URI Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.