EAST PROVIDENCE — One of the more noteworthy careers of any current East Providence Police officer comes to an end this week as Sergeant T.J. Britto retires from the force after nearly 36 years on the beat.
Sgt. Britto, 60, is stepping away due to mandatory age limitations. His last official shift came on Saturday, Aug. 17.
“There is no more decent, distinguished officer in this department than Sgt. Britto,” said Chief Joseph Tavares, overseer of the EPPD for the final four years of Sgt. Britto’s tenure.
“He’s very well read. Probably one of the most well read officers I’ve ever been around. He’s a gentleman, very insightful,” the chief continued. “He’d be the last one to toot his own horn, but in looking at his (employment) jacket I can tell you he was involved in some of the most high-risk arrests during his 36 years. He made a difference. Simply put, he’s been a really good cop. He will be missed.”
Lieutenant Armen Garo echoed the chief’s remarks saying, “You won’t find a more dedicated, loyal officer than Sgt. Britto. He kind of marched to the beat of his own drummer at times, but he did so in lock step within the department’s framework and protocols. You won’t find anyone who will say an adverse word about him.”
Lt. Garo was among Sgt. Britto’s last supervisors during the latter’s time in the EPPD Patrol Division, which is captained by Richard Frazier. Sgt. Britto also served under Capt. Bruce Kidman and Major Chris Parella among others. He has been with the department through seven different chiefs, including Chief Tavares.
A born and bred “Townie,” Sgt. Britto graduated from East Providence High School in 1971. He later graduated from the Rhode Island Police Academy in November of 1977, finishing as the class valedictorian.
Soon after, he began his career with the EPPD. Among his many accomplishments, Sgt. Britto, of Cape Verdean descent, became the department’s first minority supervisor as a Patrol sergeant.
“He has a spotless record. He was always there when you needed him,” Lt. Garo added. “I worked with him for 16 years and he did anything we ever asked of him. We never really had a disagreement. He had his opinions about procedures, and he expressed them. He’s always been forthright. It’s certainly going to be a loss to the department and to the city.”
Sgt. Britto enjoyed a varied career, spending time as an acting lieutenant for a spell and also serving a stint on the vice squad where he worked undercover narcotics inside the EPPD and with other departments in the area.
“It’s all been great. I’ve been fortunate over the course of the years I’ve been here,” an emotional Sgt. Britto said after he turned in his squad car for the final time last Saturday afternoon. “I’ve had a very rewarding career.”
Upon reflection, Sgt. Britto said he found it a bit ironic thinking back to his first interview for the job, when those asking the questions thought one of his answers to be a bit naive in nature.
“They asked me why I wanted to be a cop, and I told them I wanted to give back to the community that had treated me so well and taken such good care of me growing up,” Sgt. Britto said. “They thought I was being idealistic, but almost 36 years later I’m still here.”
Several aspects of the job have changed during Sgt. Britto’s tenure, advances in policing and tactics have created more options for officers to defuse and control situations. Somethings, however, have remained the same.
“There’s been so many developments in technology. When I started, you basically had two options. You had dialogue and you had physicality. Now, if a perp doesn’t want to come in, you have the can, pepper spray, or a little bit of lightning, the taser,” Sgt. Britto said.
He continued, “But to me being a good cop is being able to communicate. We’re public servants. The people pay our salaries. Our job is about keeping people and the community safe. I’ve always prided myself on my people skills, my ability to have a dialogue. It’s not an easy job. You’re not going to be liked by everyone, but it’s been a rewarding job.”
Sgt. Britto hopes to continue working in law enforcement, albeit in a lesser role. He will seek to take part in the Retired Officers Corps (ROC), which will allow him to keep his arrest powers and pull details when needed.
“I’ll still be around. I won’t see the guys as much. It won’t be the same, but I’ll still see them in some way,” he said.
Retiring EPPD officers are usually recognized during roll call on their final day of service. Sgt. Britto opted not to take part in that tradition, choosing to serve his last day in a typically low key, unassuming fashion. His peers, though, had too much admiration for him for that to happen.
Instead of the roll call, in the ultimate show of respect for what he has accomplished throughout his career and what he meant to the department, Sgt. Britto’s fellow officers, roughly 50 in number, created an honor line in the parking lot of the EPPD headquarters Saturday afternoon as his final patrol as an active officer ended. It was a department first, an idea of Officer Jim Toler set up by Lt. Ray Blinn, and a gesture which will likely become a new tradition.
“It’s better than any last roll call they could have thrown,” Sgt. Britto said Saturday, an appreciative smile etched across his face while he tried to keep his emotions in check as every one of his EPPD brethren gathered round him for a handshake, a hug and a one last laugh.
“It’s tremendous. I don’t think that’s ever been done before. I’ve never seen that done before,” he added. “I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say. I was totally surprised. I feel the love from those guys. It’s a great department. They’ve all been great to work with. I’ve loved my job. I’ve loved working with those guys. I worked primarily on the day shift. We had a great staff, the best lieutenants. We worked well together. For them to do this, there was no better way for it to end.”