Jones working at ‘better relationships’ between police union, town

Jones working at ‘better relationships’ between police union, town

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Lt. Thomas Jones was officially installed as new president of the North Providence Fraternal Order of Police No. 13 on Sept. 12, marking an apparent change in direction for a police union that has long had a contentious relationship with police and town officials.

Jones, an 11-year veteran and member of the Patrol Division, previously served in the Rhode Island Army National Guard and the Rhode Island Air National Guard. He told The North Providence Breeze he was grateful that outgoing FOP President Dennis Stone offered his support as he passed over the gavel.

“I’m trying to take a new approach, build a better relationship with the mayor’s office and the administration,” Jones said.

As Jones sees it, a more positive approach could stretch beyond the benefit of having a better relationship with leaders and the public. Less combativeness could lead to the union getting more of what it asks for in negotiations, he maintains.

Jones, 39, said the department is heading in a great direction under new Chief David Tikoian, and he intends to promote actions that “reflect the union in a positive light” going forward. He said no one benefits from bad publicity, and he intends to both help keep the department doing the right things and promote the work police are doing.

The vote to move Jones up to the top union job was as close as it gets. Union members voted 30-30 in the spring, splitting their votes between him and Stone, but Stone subsequently agreed to bow out and allow Jones to take the top role. There is nothing in union bylaws that specifies what happens in the case of a tie vote. There could have been a coin toss or a run-off vote, said Jones, but ultimately he and Stone decided it was better for the future of the union for Stone to step aside.

As part of the “good and productive” Sept. 12 meeting, a number of other union members took leadership positions, said Jones. He said he believes even some of those who didn’t vote for him believe in the changes he’s making within the union, including setting up new standing committees.

“I’m trying to hear from the entire body,” he said.

One of the most visible signs of the change in philosophy came in early August, when Jones led a group of police officers in volunteering at the North Providence National Night Out event at Notte Park without being paid for it. The pay for last year’s event was a bone of contention between the union and Mayor Charles Lombardi.

Jones said he feels good about how the union is being treated under a new police chief, who along with Deputy Chief Arthur Martins, a former union member in Pawtucket, is “professionalizing the way we do business.”

“They get it,” he said.

Collective bargaining will remain an important matter of discussion, particularly as the union is in arbitration proceedings two years after a 2016 impasse on a new contract. An initial meeting with Lombardi on contract talks was positive, said Jones, who noted his “decent relationship” with the mayor and said said he’s confident of “reasonable negotiations” going forward.

“It’s a breath of fresh air for us,” he said. “We have a seat at the table now to talk to him.”

Jones said he doesn’t place all of the blame on any one side for the past disputes between the union and mayor. He said the contentious nature of the former administration of Acting Chief Chris Pelagio, where relations were very poor between police officials and the rank-and-file members, made for a lose-lose situation. “I don’t blame the mayor, I don’t blame Stoney,” he said. The Pelagio situation “kind of forced the mayor to have to draw a line in the sand, as well as us,” Jones said.

Jones said he’s been on the police force for a while, and has learned a lot through both his police work and going to national conferences.

He led the way on the investigation of resident Richard Patalano’s murder, helping put away 28-year-old murderer Dari Garcia on two consecutive life sentences, with 125 years to serve, among other achievements.

“I say it like it is, I’m a straight shooter,” he says of his leadership style.

No one should expect that the department’s volunteer service at the National Night Out event will carry over to all other areas, said Jones, as there are rules on what police can or should do without compensation. In the case of National Night Out, it was “for the citizens and wasn’t necessarily a compensation thing,” he said.

“We appreciate that we’re in the position to serve them,” he said.

Wages and benefits remain a top matter of importance for union members because it involves how they’re going to live their lives, said Jones.

“I think we’re in a good position now, we’re going to instill some positive change, work together with the chief and mayor,” he said. “We’re all in it together, we’re all public servants.”