Rhode Is­land’s at­tor­ney gen­eral for the last 8 years, Pe­ter Kil­martin, re­flects on his re­mark­able ten­ure

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE jbis­son­[email protected]­tuck­et­

As a life­long Paw­tucket res­i­dent who grew up in the city’s Broad­way neigh­bor­hood, Pe­ter F. Kil­martin may be re­mem­bered by some of the city’s most se­nior res­i­dents from way back to when he was a teenaged soda jerk or when he was stock­ing shelves at the old Star Mar­ket gro­cery store.

Oth­ers may re­mem­ber Kil­martin as a fresh-faced, wet-be­hind-the-ears po­lice of­fi­cer newly-minted out of the academy in the mid-1980s who made a dif­fer­ence on the beat, pro­tect­ing and serv­ing the city he’s called home. Still yet, more may re­call Kil­martin as the self-pro­claimed “old-fash­ioned coun­try doc­tor” of law in Paw­tucket.

That per­sis­tence, that same level of tenac­ity and dogged­ness to­ward jus­tice that landed Kil­martin on the force in his home­town is ex­actly the same sort of at­ti­tude that found him ris­ing through the ranks within the Paw­tucket Po­lice Depart­ment, then to­ward a seat in the Gen­eral Assem­bly, and ul­ti­mately two terms as the state’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral.

Kil­martin is term-lim­ited as At­tor­ney Gen­eral and he is in the wan­ing days of his eight years in of­fice, be­fore he turns over the reins to in­com­ing AG-elect Pe­ter F. Neronha next month. He sat down with The Times on Thurs­day for an en­gag­ing, two-hour in­ter­view about his ca­reer and his fu­ture.

Af­ter join­ing the Po­lice Depart­ment in July 1984, Kil­martin spent days fin­ish­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree at Roger Wil­liams Univer­sity and his nights walk­ing the beat and pro­tect­ing the streets in Paw­tucket. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from RWU in 1988 with a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in crim­i­nal jus­tice, Kil­martin pur­sued his law de­gree at Roger Wil­liams’ law school, grad­u­at­ing in 1994, then work­ing full time at Paw­tucket’s Ho­ran Law Of­fice. All the while, he rose through the ranks at the Paw­tucket Po­lice Depart­ment, reach­ing the level of cap­tain.

“I al­ways wanted to help make my city a bet­ter place, and what bet­ter way than to keep them safe? It ap­pealed to me,” Kil­martin said of his time in the blue. “One anal­ogy be­tween both jobs (po­lice and AG) is that I liked the fact that there are no two days that are the same, there are un­ex­pected things that come up in the course of a day you need to pon­der or make an im­me­di­ate de­ci­sion on and that’s at­trac­tive to me.”

“That’s how di­verse this of­fice is and how di­verse the Po­lice Depart­ment is,” he con­tin­ued. “I worked a lot of third shift by virtue of be­ing in law school and the Gen­eral Assem­bly, a lot of nights where it was aw­ful lonely, but other nights where there were three dead bod­ies and you went bell-to-bell.”

“My com­mit­ment al­ways was to the depart­ment,” Kil­martin said of the del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act be­tween ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment. “I got to uti­lize my lawyer­ing skills in the pros­e­cu­tion divi­sion. When I left the depart­ment, the only rea­son I left was I was a cap­tain, I had maxed out time-wise, and it was a young com­mand staff. I didn’t see up­ward mo­bil­ity. It was more of the head than the heart to leave the depart­ment.”

En­ter­ing pol­i­tics

Not con­tent sim­ply pro­tect­ing the pub­lic, Kil­martin wanted to be ad­vo­cate for his com­mu­nity and he saw an op­por­tu­nity on Smith Hill. His first suc­cess­ful run for of­fice came in 1990 as he won the race for District 80 State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Fol­low­ing a down­siz­ing in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Kil­martin would serve District 61 in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

“For my last elec­tion (in 2008), I knew at that time that I wanted to call it quits af­ter 20 years. In that time, I had no de­signs on run­ning for this of­fice, I didn’t think I’d con­sider it,” Kil­martin re­called. “Pa­trick Lynch was term lim­ited at the time … As I thought about it in depth, I knew I had the pas­sion to run for this of­fice, and that I’d con­sider it a cul­mi­na­tion – serv­ing the com­mu­nity, vol­un­teer­ing – that this would be the cul­mi­na­tion of that.”

Kil­martin ran for At­tor­ney Gen­eral in 2010, de­ci­sively win­ning in the gen­eral elec- tion with 43.1 per­cent of the vote among five can­di­dates af­ter a tight race in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, which he won by only 0.6 per­cent over fel­low Demo­crat Stephen R. Ar­cham­bault.

“When I made the de­ci­sion to run, in late 2009, fall 2009, there were other peo­ple who had an­nounced. For me it made to­tal sense, both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally,” the for­mer po­lice cap­tain and at­tor­ney said. “I guess if you look back, the jus­tice sys­tem’s been my en­tire pro­fes­sional life. Even in the Gen­eral Assem­bly, most of the bills that I worked on were some­how re­lated to the jus­tice sys­tem, from wit­ness pro­tec­tion bills to bills re­gard­ing drunk driv­ing … The Gen­eral Assem­bly was a good place to learn a lit­tle bit about a lot of things.”

Ever the tire­less work­horse, Kil­martin said he re­called leav­ing his in­au­gu­ra­tion ac­tiv­i­ties shortly af­ter be­ing sworn into of­fice to re­ceive up­dates on on­go­ing cases be­fore the AG’s of­fice. Hit­ting the ground run­ning from day one, the neo­phyte Kil­martin was quick to work with col­leagues across Amer­ica – will­ing to cross party lines to re­ceive in­put from the likes of Florida’s Re­pub­li­can At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pam Bondi or Ken­tucky’s Demo­cratic AG Jack Con­way.

“I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered in­ter­ac­tion among col­leagues, whether at po­lice level or state level, al­ways as im­por­tant. I don’t think any of us have all the an­swers, we need to be re­sources for each other. There’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment, and that’s where you can rely on your col­leagues,” he said. “You don’t have to rein­vent the wheel.”

One par­tic­u­lar in­stance stuck out in Kil­martin’s mem­ory. While the city of Cen­tral Falls was in bankruptcy ear­lier this decade, he phoned then-Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ka­mala Har­ris to dis­cuss how her of­fice han­dled the three-year-long bankruptcy of Vallejo, Calif. and whether her of­fice had any di­rect deal­ings with the mat­ter.

Some years later, Kil­martin said, an­other Cal­i­for­nia city went into bankruptcy and this time it was Har­ris who reached out to Kil­martin for ad­vice.

“Those in­ter­ac­tions at the At­tor­ney Gen­eral level are the abil­ity to learn from each other,” he said. “Deal­ing with the opi­oid cri­sis, iden­tity theft, po­lice shoot­ings, you pick the is­sue and we’ve had dis­cus­sions on it.”

Cross­ing borders

Over his eight years in of­fice, Kil­martin has risen through the ranks of at­tor­neys gen­eral, co-chair­ing the Na­tional At­tor­neys Gen­eral Train­ing and Re­search In­sti­tute and serv­ing as a de­signee to the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Prose­cu­tors among the high­lights on his re­sume.

“A crime in Prov­i­dence, Paw­tucket, or Westerly might be lo­cal in na­ture, but so many crimes cross state and in­ter­na­tional borders. That’s added a whole new level of com­pli­ca­tion to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of crime to the law en­force­ment level,” he said. Through his work with the IAP, he’s in­ter­acted with prose­cu­tors from nearly 100 na­tions, dis­cussing mat­ters from drug and hu­man traf­fick­ing to phone scams.

Kil­martin also played a role as Mex­ico tran­si­tioned from an in­quisi­tor sys­tem of jus­tice – where the court is in­volved in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case – to an ad­ver­sar­ial sys­tem sim­i­lar to what is seen in Amer­ica with a pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense and the court as an im­par­tial judge.

“I went down to Mex­ico deal­ing with the man­age­ment of pros­e­cu­tion di­vi­sions, try­ing to tell them what we do and how this sys­tem works, be­cause they were start­ing from scratch,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant so our neigh­bors have a solid jus­tice sys­tem in place. They’re on our bor­der, they’re our neigh­bors. Just as we look out for our neigh­bors in Paw­tucket, we look out for our neigh­bors across the world.”

Just as the world around him is evolv­ing, Kil­martin is quite aware of how things have changed on his doorstep.

“I can guar­an­tee you that, never mind in eight years, even for my re-elec­tion four years ago, this of­fice has changed,” he said. “The du­ties con­tinue to grow and get so­phis­ti­cated. In­ter­nally, we have new com­puter sys­tems in place, over 20 IT projects in the pipe­line, but one of the big changes from the na­tional level is there has been a big uptick in mostly Demo­cratic AGs call­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to task for ig­nor­ing rule-mak­ing pro­ce­dure, try­ing to change with­out pub­lic in­put.”

“We find our­selves now chal­leng­ing the na­tional gov­ern­ment to con­tinue the progress for­ward and not take the steps back­wards,” he said. “There’s a mis­per­cep­tion, through no fault of any­body, but if we have a case we want to sign onto, we don’t just put sig­na­tures to it, I have at­tor­neys vet it to en­sure the law ap­plies and has ef­fect in Rhode Is­land.”

But just as the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate has changed, Kil­martin knows that crime it­self and the crim­i­nals par­tic­i­pat­ing in ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties have ad­vanced over the past decade. He says it “all comes down to com­mu­ni­ca­tion with col­leagues in the coun­try and lo­cal law en­force­ment.”

“Our col­leagues in this of­fice, there’s a rea­son I have 100 emails com­ing in to­day from ev­ery at­tor­ney here, what cases we’re work­ing on or are com­ing up in the near fu­ture,” he said. “That pro­vides a trend for me in my head and the man­age­ment team, some of the things we’re fac­ing.”

“That’s one of the things that’s al­ways a prob­lem on the streets – crim­i­nals get cre­ative with crime. They see op­por­tu­nity with crime and that’s some­thing that po­lice, leg­is­la­tors, this of­fice have to keep up with,” he added. “It’s al­ways dy­namic.”

“I al­ways wanted to help make my city a bet­ter place, and what bet­ter way than to keep them safe? It ap­pealed to me.”

Photo by Jonathan BIssonnette

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pe­ter Kil­martin, pic­tured in his of­fice on Thurs­day, is leav­ing the post af­ter eight years be­cause of term lim­its. Kil­martin, a life­long res­i­dent of Paw­tucket and a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer in that city, re­flected this week on his pro­fes­sional pro­gres­sion and on how he ap­proached the job of the state’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial.

File photo

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pe­ter Kil­martin stands with Paw­tucket Mayor Don­ald Gre­bien at the Paw­tucket Po­lice Depart­ment’s 2016 An­nual Awards and Memo­rial Cer­e­mony at Vet­er­ans Memo­rial Park. Kil­martin started his ca­reer in law en­force­ment as a Paw­tucket po­lice of­fi­cer, even­tu­ally ris­ing to the rank of cap­tain.

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