Campus Police Officer Chronicles History of Prov. Police Department

George Pearson

Among the many published scholars at Rhode Island College, you can add a member of the Rhode Island College campus police. 

George Pearson
Officer George Pearson

Officer George Pearson, who earned his B.A. degree in history, has co-authored a pictorial history of the Providence Police Department (PPD), titled “Images of America: Providence Police Department,” in collaboration with Paul Campbell, former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society Library and former archivist for the City of Providence, as well as former PPD Chief John Glancy. 

This book is filled with images dating as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries when Providence was a small village with a single town sergeant to enforce the law. As the town’s population grew, a night watch was established but even that wasn't enough to keep the citizens safe from miscreants. The authors write:

Ill-eq​uipped and undermanned, the night watch was hard pressed to provide adequate protection for the rapidly growing city. In December 1850, thieves terrorized the city for several weeks, with one commentator labeling Providence “the best robbed city in the union. 

 

Later, a 10-man daytime force of permanent police officers was established. The PPD was a pioneer among law enforcement agencies, incorporating the first emergency medical vehicle (horse-drawn wagon), the first women police officers and the first to use trained canines.

What’s interesting about this book is that in providing a history of the PPD, it indirectly chronicles the history of Providence, such as the state’s unsuccessful attempt to enforce Prohibition. The authors noted that Rhode Island was deemed “the wettest state in the nation” and that “Narragansett Bay boasted the largest rum-running fleet on the East Coast.”

Archival photographs throughout the 127-page book tell distinctive stories of the past, such as the rise of the New England mob, that have shaped the City of Providence today.​

Pearson said he has​ always had a love of history. “It goes back to when I was a kid living in a tenement in South Providence,” he said. “The attic was chock full of my parents’ and grandparents’ clothing, memorabilia and letters, and I just loved going up in the attic and looking at all that history – pictures of when my parents were young, letters from my grandparents in Ireland. It connected me to the larger world they lived in.” 

Pearson would go on to study history at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1975. If you should run across him on his daily patrol of the campus, ask him what it was like during his time on the PPD. He has countless stories to tell. ​

“As a police officer you see parts of life no one will ever see,” he said. “I think most people who are attracted ​to policing have an interest in adventure. What I got from that attic as a kid was adventure.”