The late Col. Serpa to be inducted into RI Criminal Justice Hall of Fame

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 1/11/24

The late Colonel Russell “Rusty” S. Serpa, Bristol's former Police Chief, has been gone for nearly 4 years, but he is anything but forgotten.

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The late Col. Serpa to be inducted into RI Criminal Justice Hall of Fame


The late Colonel Russell “Rusty” S. Serpa has been gone for nearly 4 years, but he is anything but forgotten. In his 75 years, he lived a distinguished life of service to both country and community, and now that service will be honored with his posthumous induction into the Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame on Thursday, Jan. 18.

Bristol Police Chief Kevin Lynch extolled Serpa’s many achievements and virtues in a Nov. 2023 nomination letter to Sean Corrigan, President of the Rhode Island Chiefs Association.

Serpa’s 40 year career of service began in 1965. As a member of the United States Army, Serpa went to Vietnam in 1965 where he served and rose to the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged in 1968. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 devices.

After leaving the Army he joined the Bristol Police Department in December of 1968. By consistently demonstrating integrity and outstanding leadership skills, he rose through the ranks, with a promotion to Sergeant in 1987, and Lieutenant in 1988. In January of 1996, he was sworn in as Chief, a position he held for 12 years.

Over the years, Serpa served as a Computer Officer, Purchasing Officer, Community Relations Officer, and Training and Grant Officer. He was also an Assistant Patrol Commander, and an Assistant Adjutant with Internal Affairs. According to Lynch, Serpa’s greatest accomplishment with the BPD was bringing the Department in line with professional standards by working for and obtaining national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, (CALEA). 

During his service to the Town, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement and a master’s degree in Business, both from Salve Regina College. He attended the prestigious FBI National Academy, a command level leadership program, in 1989. He attended the Babson College command leadership and management courses as well as the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association. He was the President of the Rhode Island Chiefs of Police Association in 2005, the President of both the Rhode Island Chapter and New England Chapter of the FBI National Associates.

In 2000, he saved a life by climbing to the top of the southern tower of the Mt. Hope Bridge to stop a man from jumping. He also instituted the department’s first Citizen’s Police Academy in the spring of 2005, the purpose of which is to give the public a working knowledge of the Bristol Police Department’s operations, helping to establish a stronger relationship between the police department and the community. The academy is going strong to this day.

In 2005, he was honored by the Town as the 220th Chief Marshal of the Bristol Fourth of July parade.

Serpa served as a board member and president of the Board of Directors for the East Bay Community Development Corporation. He was also a member of the Disabled American Veterans, the Bristol Fire Department (Hydraulions), the Elks, the Bristol Rotary Club, the Prince Henry Club, the Cup Defenders Association, the Tiverton Rod and Gun Club and the Columbus Square House.

Town Administrator Steven Contente had the unique experience of serving under Chief Serpa as a new Bristol Police Officer, eventually as a member of his Command Staff, and ultimately, Contente sought Serpa’s counsel as elected Town Administrator.

“Even after retiring, Col. Serpa continued to attend promotional ceremonies and would call with advice, wisdom, and even concerns that he overheard at the local diner,” wrote Contente in a letter in support of the nomination. “He was compassionate and understanding, and he understood the importance of mentoring the personnel in the Police Department.”

Established in 2012, the Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame "honors outstanding professionals who have worked to improve and uphold the principles of the criminal justice system in Rhode Island." The induction ceremony will take place on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the R.I. Attorney General’s Boardroom, where the award will be presented to Serpa’s family, which includes wife Lydia, and sons Russell Jr. and Christopher (Alex).

Fellow inductees include Honorable Patrick C. Lynch, Honorable Mary S. McElroy, AUSA William J. Ferland Detective Robert Lauro of the Providence Police Department, Chief Elwood M. Johnson, Jr. of the Richmond Police Department, and the late Roosevelt Benton, former Deputy Superintendent of the R.I. Training School.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
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