Tom Joyce, Longtime Local Cop, Calls It Quits
Tom Joyce, Longtime Local Cop, Calls It Quits
As Lt. Tom Joyce, a 48-year veteran of the East Greenwich Police Department, enjoyed an informal Bon Voyage lunch with a few friends and colleagues last week, he contemplated his impending retirement, which becomes effective at the end of the day today.
"This will probably be our last good lunch," he said to his guests, who had joined him at a conference table in his corner office of the new police station. "My dad told me when you leave the station, don't go back."
After serving in three different stations, under eight different chiefs and for almost a half century of transition in East Greenwich, Joyce knows it is time to move on, even if he isn't fully prepared for it.
"I'm not exactly excited about leaving," Joyce said, in the deadpan manner for which he became so well known.
It was his normal lunch crew: Chief David Desjarlais and Deputy Chief Thomas Coyle, the only two officers who outrank him at EGPD; Sgt. John Carter, who will inherit from Joyce the chief responsibilities of the juvenile division, a beat Joyce helped to create in 1984, and defined for the next 26 years of his career; and Bob Houghtaling, who has worked with Joyce almost every day during that time, and become one of his closest friends in the process.
They weren't exactly excited about losing him, either.
"He's been on the job for longer than I've been alive," said Desjarlais. "They guy is just a wealth of information. I'm always picking his brain."
Carter, who will become only the second officer to run the juvenile division in East Greenwich, said, "I've got some big shoes to fill. Tom has taught me so much about this job."
Houghtaling had a different take on his good friend.
"Deep down, Tom is basically a softie," said Houghtaling. "Most people don't realize all the things that Tom has done for this town, outside of his capacity as a police officer."
Houghtaling teased Joyce about his soft spot for the underdogs in town, and how he would give them a break when he could. His wife worked for the town's welfare department, and they often worked in tandem to help the less affluent families, he said.
Coyle mentioned another well-known Tom Joyce characteristic. "He's not afraid to tell you what he thinks."
The lunch crew burst out in laughter. They evidently agreed.
Joyce's biggest contribution to his adopted hometown might be his influence on East Greenwich's younger generation, as the juvenile officer. With his good friend and mentor Barbara Tufts, who was president of the Town Council at the time, he helped to invent the juvenile division of law enforcement in East Greenwich in 1984.
Generations of the town's youth regarded his as a sort of Eliot Ness of local underage drinking. A 1987 article from the East Greenwich High School newspaper, the Sprectrum, described him as someone "that seems to be out to spoil the fun that the youth of E.G. strive to enjoy."
But Joyce saw his role differently. He told the student newspaper, "It's the first job where you have the opportunity to help people rather than just arrest them."
Houghtaling, at lunch on Wednesday, said Joyce "pioneered community policing long before it was in vogue."
Joyce estimates that he has worked with thousands and thousands of juveniles throughout his career in East Greenwich, and smiled when he was reminded of the children and parents who fondly remember his assistance.
Early days in EG
But for the first 21 years of his career, he wasn't the juvenile officer. For his first nine years he worked patrol, and for the next 16 he was a Sgt. He once investigated a murder with the FBI that involved Coventry police officers, and he has had to respond to deaths of his friend's children. He has seen 17 dead bodies during his career as a cop.
In the early 1960's, he patrolled a very different East Greenwich from the one he serves today. He remembers getting into a bloody fist fight with a local fisherman and his son on King Street, during which a fellow officer was hit in the face with a bullrake, over a stolen watch.
Back then, the biggest source of crime was not teenage drinking, but sailors form Quonset fighting with the townies outside of the local bars.
"We had the townie and the sailor battles back then," he said, in a November interview. "The townies didn't like the sailors chasing the local girls … we'd get called in to break up the fights. Then, in 1974, they closed the Base and we became a bedroom community."
The Base, in fact, was how Joyce first landed in East Greenwich. He grew up in a poor part of Pittsburgh, and joined the Marines after high school. He was stationed at Quonset, and there he met a girl from East Greenwich. The girl, then named Janet Johnson, became his wife, and is, herself, a local institution, having been inducted into the East Greenwich Wall of Honor last year.
Janet's father worked for the town sewage plant and he helped his new son-in-law get a job with the local police department. There were only six police officers in town then, and Joyce would be the first hire not born and raised here. The town didn't even have police radios at the time. Instead officers would respond to one of several "call boxes" on telephone poles around town.
"There was no police academy back then," he said in November. "A couple of guys showed me around town and three days later I was on the road myself. We didn't get radios until we moved up the hill in '64."
Not done yet
Almost a half century later, Joyce is not ready to stop serving the people of East Greenwich. He and Janet live on Moosehorn Road, and he said he plans to run for a seat on the Town Council this November. He said he will run as an independent, but usually votes for Democrats. "I'll have no ties to anyone," he said.
He has always enjoyed local politics, and has always been closely involved in town affairs through the police department, his wife and his friend Barbara Tufts. Despite turning 70 in July, he said this is the right time in his life to try elected office.
"I've given a lot to East Greenwich, but everything I have given I have gotten back," he said. "Running for Town Council is a way that I can continue to look out for the welfare of this town."