Meet Dartmouth’s newest Deputy Police Chief

Nov 7, 2019

Deputy Chief of Police Tony Vincent knows a challenge when he sees one.

Vincent has worked in the National Guard and policed in East Timor and Iraq before coming back to his native Dartmouth to complete a PhD in educational leadership with a focus on police training.

He was appointed to the role of Deputy Chief in August.

Originally, he said, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a police officer. 

But after taking some criminal justice classes at Bristol Community College, he went on to complete an associate’s degree there and then a bachelor’s degree at UMass Dartmouth. 

He worked in the National Guard, in military intelligence, as a residential counselor for mentally disabled adults, and as a corrections officer in Rhode Island before becoming a Dartmouth Police officer.

With encouragement from former Police Chief Szala, he got his master’s degree in criminal justice and worked as a narcotics detective for a while before becoming a field training officer.

It was in this capacity that Vincent went to East Timor for a year in 2001 as a volunteer for an international police mission conducted by the United Nations.

He had never heard of East Timor before.

“It just seemed exciting,” he said. “I remember seeing it in a police magazine.”

The Southeast Asian nation had just come through a war, and they were building the country and establishing a government with the assistance of the UN.

While there, Vincent worked as a police officer as well as helping train the new Timorese police, and eventually became a station commander.

“It was very difficult,” he said, noting that he did patrols from Jeeps, dirtbikes, and on horseback, while working and living out in the jungle.

“We had electricity I think eight hours out of the day,” he said.

Vincent worked with police officers from Thailand, Sri Lanka, and other countries, but had few resources.

“You were basically on your own,” he said. “Out there, the villagers wanted frontier justice. So it was kind of scary.”

But the memories also drew a smile to his face as he described his experience there, which ultimately earned him a UN peacekeeping medal. 

“It was very challenging, but extremely rewarding,” he said. “It was so good working with other police officers from all over the world.” 

“The people were wonderful,” he continued. “The Timorese are the most honest people I’ve ever dealt with. They’re very sincere and they’re very passionate. And that’s why things could erupt quickly...but yet they’re so genuine.”

“It’s just a wonderful culture,” he said. “They would have the village chiefs basically mediate problems...It was such a great experience.”

He added that he believed the people he met there taught him “way more” than he taught them. “The idea of just humbling yourself, and really listening to people,” he said. “That alone goes so far.”

Vincent did another international stint from 2005 to 2006, when he went to Iraq after a call from an officer friend who had been in East Timor with him. 

“He was like, ‘Tony, we need help out here.’ So I went in a sense to help my brother officers,” he said.

While in Iraq, Vincent mentored and trained Iraqi police before transferring to a movement team.

But Iraq was much more dangerous than East Timor.

“My job was to get [people] from point A to point B safely,” he said, adding matter-of-factly “I got hit with two IEDs [improvised explosive devices] while I was there.”

He was quick to distinguish his mission from the military, however. “We ran from a fight, we didn’t look for a fight,” he said. “If we got hit, we’d just keep moving.”

“The IEDs, that was the scariest thing,” Vincent said. “I got hit with two simultaneously. We were heading towards Camp Victory, and we took a different route.”

He was driving the last gun truck in a four vehicle convoy when they were hit. 

“We turned, we were going along, and then all of a sudden I saw a bright light flash to my left. And then there was a big explosion, and I couldn’t see, because of the dust, the sand. 

“Everything went black. And I punched it, I just stomped on the accelerator and we pushed through the smoke.”

Although everyone survived the incident, Vincent said his hearing has never fully recovered.

But the Deputy Chief said he really enjoyed his time overseas.

“It was very exciting work,” he said. “But I liked it simply because you just learn so much when you’re overseas...It’s so fulfilling.”

Vincent received his PhD from UMass Dartmouth in May this year with a thesis on indigenous justice and global policing.

As for policing back home, he said, the problems are simply different.

“In America, obviously you’re not in a war zone,” he said with a smile. 

But he noted that “being a police officer in America today is extremely challenging. It’s a very difficult job.”

Here, police officers have to worry about school shootings and bags of fentanyl.

“Everything has its own challenges,” he said. “It’s a very stressful job.”

But as tough as it is, he said, he appreciates the little things.

Vincent described how officers sometimes give teddy bears or stuffed toys ⁠— provided by the Friends of Jack foundation ⁠— to kids to cheer them up in difficult situations, like after a car accident.

“You give them a bear, and you see them light up. That makes it all worthwhile,” he said. 

“It might seem like a very simple thing, and it’s maybe only a brief moment in your day. But that one thing, it lasts forever.”