LENOX — Stephen O'Brien, about to mark a decade as Lenox police chief with 21 years on the force, has been honored with the coveted "Phil Hano" award, bestowed annually by the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
"Chief O'Brien has a history of dedication to the association during his long career," said association President David Hastings, police chief in the Franklin County town of Gill. "He has been a great contact person in the Berkshires for any assistance we need."
"He's a gentleman, a real pleasure to work with," Hastings added. "His community is very fortunate to have him."
The 21st annual award was presented to O'Brien during the association's yearly meeting held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke on Tuesday. In keeping with tradition, the name of the winner was kept secret, Hastings said, catching the Lenox chief, widely known for his modesty, off guard.
"It was completely shocking to me," O'Brien acknowledged after returning to the Lenox police station. "It is an honor to be recognized by my peers, but it didn't need to be done. It isn't really my thing. All the chiefs in Berkshire County try to do what we can to make things better for their agencies, other agencies and the people they work with."
"I try to do my best, as do all the other Berkshire County chiefs," he added, "but we're certainly not expecting an award for it."
O'Brien's years of active service on at least five association committees — including the Western Mass. Homeland Security Advisory Council, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association and the 911 Communications and Technology Committee — were among the reasons he received the citation, according to Hastings.
"We were able to get a lot of training, equipment and communications upgrades for Berkshire County," said O'Brien, as well as Special Response Team vehicles now stationed in Pittsfield and North Adams.
Asked about the role of the association, he said "it's very helpful to have discussions and to network with other chiefs. A lot of Western Massachusetts towns are fairly small, so other chiefs in other jurisdictions deal with the problems which are unique to their communities."
"It's good to be able to talk through situations with chiefs who have similar issues, know that you're not the only guy having to deal with a challenge and hopefully get tips on how to handle it," O'Brien said.
Previous Berkshire chiefs who won the award include Mark Bashara of Lanesborough, now retired, who was cited in 2012. The association, which represents 111 communities in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties, does not have records of previous winners, Hastings said.
The award is named for the late Phil Hano, who was a prominent Springfield business leader, founding member of the chiefs association and major supporter of the law enforcement community.
The honor is presented to an active member of the association who, through his or her actions and contributions, "truly reflects and supports the objectives of the association in providing support and fellowship to our members and the best possible service to our communities," according to the organization's website.
O'Brien was cited for "behind the scenes efforts and leadership in keeping Berkshire County chiefs involved in the association. The award is in recognition of his professionalism, dedication, support and friendship over the years."