Clarence Fanto: Eye-opening visit for state safety chief
When Gov. Deval Patrick's new Secretary of Public Safety and Security, Andrea Cabral, visited the Berkshires on Friday to meet with local leaders, legislators and a bevy of police and fire chiefs, along with building inspectors, she said something quite candid and revealing: "It's good for me to get out of the Boston-centric thing," she confessed, after describing how her rustic image of the county as merely a peaceful getaway had been set straight.
Cabral, an experienced former prosecutor and 10-year sheriff of Suffolk County (Boston) prior to her Cabinet appointment two months ago, made a positive impression -- down to earth, witty, articulate and very open-minded.
She seemed impressed by efforts at regional cooperation under way in the county while acknowledging lingering resistance as towns seek to retain their individual identities.
When I asked her what she'll take back to Boston, she described "an enormous spirit of collaboration and cooperation. There's a real willingness here to be part of the larger initiatives but to make sure that funding for smaller areas that have the same problems doesn't get ignored because larger cities get all of the attention."
"This was a real eye-opener for me," she offered, as she learns more about her statewide role as the top public safety official. "You have to go and get to know the areas of the state, not make assumptions based on the areas of the state you've lived in as to what their issues are."
"I can speak better for Berkshire County tomorrow than today," Cabral explained, as she voiced enthusiasm for ideas that emerged during her visit to be aired at Gov. Patrick's Cabinet meetings and in her Executive Office of Public Safety.
Among them: More grants for police and fire department training, as well as for building inspectors' certification requirements and online permitting for construction projects.
Most of all, Cabral was persuaded by District Attorney David Capeless' compelling case for pumping up mostly eroded state support for his drug task force, which he has renamed the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force in recognition of its broader crime-fighting mission. Capeless offered chapter and verse on the group's accomplishments, noting that it consists of 23 officers from local police forces who retain their full-time jobs while earning overtime for crime-solving on the task force, along with state police detectives.
Collaboration, cooperation and regionalization of public safety services was the common thread linking the comments and suggestions during the meeting. Sharing those services seems inevitable in the age of austerity that has enveloped the county, state and nation.
Will Gov. Patrick be open to Cabral's recommendations? One would think so, especially since he's made it clear that the family's Richmond home will become their full-time residence once he retires. On the other hand, he has been scrupulous in avoiding the appearance, or reality, of favoritism toward the Berkshires.
The state Legislature, which makes the final funding decisions, is another matter. Too many lawmakers still believe Western Massachusetts is the area between Worcester and Springfield, while the Berkshires seem so remote as to lie nearly across state lines.
The county is fortunate to have a strong Statehouse delegation, led by state Sen. Ben Downing and state Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli, along with more recently elected members Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams, Paul Mark, who lives in Peru, and Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield.
It will take all the persuasive prowess they can muster to help make sure that the useful proposals that greeted Cabral on Friday don't end up as just talk rather than action.
Clarence Fanto, a regular Eagle contributor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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