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John J. Partington of R.I., 77; was law enforcement leader

CUMBERLAND, R.I. -- John J. Partington, the former commissioner of public safety in Providence who as a federal marshal helped develop the witness protection program, died Friday at a Pawtucket hospital of a viral infection following surgery, his son said. He was 77.

Mr. Partington, after service in the Army, spent his entire career in law enforcement, starting in 1955 as a patrolman in his hometown of Cumberland.

He worked for the US Marshals Service from 1962 until 1980, working closely with the IRS on organized crime cases. He participated in the formation of the witness protection program in the 1960s, also helping protect organized crime figures during the early days of the program.

James O'Neil, a former Rhode Island attorney general who worked with Mr. Partington as an assistant US attorney, recalled him as a master in working with witnesses.

''He handled those people like he was a choral director. He knew how to get them to follow his lead," he told The Call of Woonsocket.

He returned to his roots in 1980, taking over as police chief in Cumberland and serving for nine years before starting a 15-year term as the top law enforcement official in Providence. He retired in 2004.

Whether he was dealing with politicians in Washington, D.C., or with the humble folk of his hometown, Mr. Partington was always the same person, his son, Scott, said. ''He spent time in Washington with top political figures, he dealt with the top organized crime figures in the country, and then he came home to Cumberland, where dealing with kids and seniors was just as important to him as that bigger stuff," Scott Partington said Friday night.

He was a proponent of community policing long before the concept became fashionable.

Besides his son, Mr. Partington leaves two grandchildren.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for Tuesday in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence, with burial in Resurrection Cemetery in Cumberland, his son said.

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