Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 07-23-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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SMITHFIELD SCITUATE FOSTER GLOCESTER EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE & OBSERVER | JULY 23-29, 2020 NORTH COUNTY 7 Burleigh Briggs says he's retiring. At 88, he wants to step back a bit. He's done it before, but this time he thinks it might stick. Over several careers he has prov- en to be adept at shifting gears and taking on new tasks, and he doesn't shrink from a challenge. That might be the problem he will encounter as he attempts to slow down ... again. He says that "the stuff I do comes naturally to me." He's done a lot of stuff, too. It began with him being a Providence police officer. He fol- lowed his father onto the force. He was assigned a walking beat in South Providence and was soon making arrests that saw him even- tually receive more than 20 depart- mental citations. "I made a lot of arrests, actually. Tons of arrests," he declares matter of factly. Briggs earned the distinction of making the first drug collar in the city of Providence by a uniformed officer. Within three years he had moved up to detective. His duties involved him in a number of high profile cases including gangland slayings, organized crime offenses, and serious auto theft incidents. He was called upon to fire his weapon more than once in the line of duty, but, all in all, he loved the work. However, he and his wife Claire had a young family, and his salary was proving insufficient. So, after nine years he went to work in the insurance industry, his experience dealing with auto theft giving him an entry. The career change led to 26 years of employment with the Allstate Insurance Company, where he specialized in claims investigation. It didn't mean the end of police work, though. "I couldn't get it out of my sys- tem," he told a reporter. He had moved to Smithfield, where his history as a former police officer made it possible to sign on as a part-time reserve member of the police force. The position offered him evening or weekend assignments maintaining order at nightclubs, entertainment events, and the like. It led to one of the tensest moments in his police career. On duty at a night spot in town, he was outside in the parking lot when he noticed suspicious activity in a car. It was dark. He surveilled a person in the car for a time, watching as he made repetitive motions that Briggs thought might be the rolling of marijuana cigarettes. He approached from the rear on an oblique angle that prevented the occupant from seeing him in the side mirror. As he got next to the driver's side door he realized that the subject was actually load- ing a pistol. His heart beat faster. In those days the police carried no two-way radios. He quickly weighed his options, and then he saw that the man actually had a second gun on the center console. Apparently he was planning some sort of attack inside the club. Realizing that he needed to act while he was still unobserved in order to have the element of sur- prise, Briggs yanked open the door and grabbed away the gun the man was holding and soon had him in handcuffs. It earned him a com- mendation. In 1993 Briggs retired from Allstate, but after two weeks he was ready to climb the walls. "I had been working since I was 7 or 8 when I began peddling papers. I couldn't sit still." So, he went into business for himself doing investigative work related to car accidents. Often his objective was to locate witnesses or perpetrators who had disappeared. "I tend to be able to find them. I did it all my life – chased the bad guys," he observes. "Everything I do in life is based on my experi- ence as a young policeman in Providence. It was like my Ph.D. in public service." He also made time to get involved in the community and, for a while, politics. From 1990 to 1994 and again from 1998 to 2002 he served on the Town Council, twice being vice president. "I got involved because I thought it would be a good experience. It could have been with either party, actually," he mentions, noting that he knew leaders in both. "I was fairly green in the political arena," he adds. While on the panel he decided that he would make land preserva- tion a priority. He advocated for the Land Trust, introducing the idea of impact fees to be charged on new developments as a means of funding the acquisition of open space. He also was a champion of obtaining the property that became Deerfield Park. Before, during, and after his stints in politics, Briggs found time to lend his energy to numer- ous community service efforts. He coached girls' softball and helped establish the annual Fourth of July Firecracker Tournament, sought and secured funding for the refur- bishment and expansion of the Whipple Field complex, volun- teered for Meals on Wheels, served at a Providence church's soup kitchen, and was president and board member of the Providence Gridiron Club. So, it should come as no sur- prise that he was inducted into the Smithfield Heritage Hall of Fame years back and became a member of the committee to choose other worthy subjects for election to the hall, a role he plans to keep. In recent times Briggs has run an annual coat drive at St. Michael Church for the homeless, collecting and distributing winter coats for people of all ages. He credits his impulse to get involved in outreach efforts and community improvement projects to his upbringing. It began, he says, when he was a boy. His oldest sister, one of four, had polio and spent a year in an iron lung at Rhode Island Hospital. "As a young lad I always had to go out and help my sister. I was glad to do it," he reflects. Ultimately, she recovered and became a nurse, working for 42 years for Providence District Nursing, a forerunner of the visit- ing nurse programs. Briggs also recalls taking part in scrap paper and tin can drives during World War II and describes how his home room at Nathanael Greene Middle School in Providence raised the astounding sum of $250,000 selling war bonds. Those experiences impressed upon him the importance of empa- thy and compassion, he says. Asked to what he attributes his endurance and energy, Briggs reports that he does 100 curl exer- cises with 12-pound weights most mornings, walks whenever he can, and maintains a garden. In the past on notable birthday years he has found special ways to observe the Aug. 2 occasion, such as climbing Mount Washington or taking a bicycle tour of Holland. He won't say for sure if some- thing is being planned for the future, but he wonders out loud whether he might reprise the hike up New England's tallest elevation. Oh, and he just took an assign- ment to look into a new case. (Contact me at smithpublarry@gmail. com) Burleigh Briggs is trying to retire again One More Thing LAURENCE J. SASSO, JR. BURLEIGH BRIGGS Do you like to read The Valley Breeze? Then please shop with our advertisers, and tell them 'I saw it in The Breeze!'

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