Warm welcome for Stockbridge police chief at public swearing-in ceremony

STOCKBRIDGE -- The town's new police chief received a hero's welcome at his public swearing-in ceremony on Friday night before a crowd of more than 150 that packed the gymnasium at the Town Offices, formerly the Plain School.

Robert M. Eaton, Jr., who began work on Feb. 3, credited two officers, Rosario Messina and Heidi Teutsch, as well as witnesses and business owners, for their quick response to Monday's bank holdup, the town's first in 78 years.

Without them, he said, "that robbery suspect would not have been apprehended so quickly. They did a great job." He also credited backup by Berkshire law enforcement-- "within minutes, there were several dozen officers from across the county assisting us with the manhunt" -- along with Massachusetts and New York state police.

Several hours after the 3:50 p.m. Lee Bank branch heist on Monday, New York state troopers had spotted the suspect's getaway pickup truck and arrested Christopher Blair, 34, of Hillsdale, N.Y., who was held without bail in the Columbia County Jail.

Eaton's ceremony was witnessed by an enthusiastic crowd of family and friends, townspeople, area police chiefs and and former co-workers from Smithfield, R.I., where he had been a police captain.

He was introduced by Select Board Chairman Stephen Shatz, who saluted the new chief as "our hero of the week."

"This event is not about me, it's for all of us to get to know each other as one big family," Eaton said. "I'm truly humbled by the overwhelming turnout."

Joining Eaton on the stage were his wife Jean, and 16-year-old son Carlton, while his mother Lynn, other family members and State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, looked on from the front rows.

Shatz complimented Eaton as "a consummate professional, well-trained, a very sweet man, a lovely guy." He described the search process as "difficult you hope you get the right guy and that there are no surprises."

"This week was a gigantic surprise," Shatz said amid laughter from the crowd. "We weren't quite sure whether Superman had landed or Marshal Dillon had ridden into town, but lo and behold, the question we had never asked Bob was whether or not he had ever investigated a bank robbery. Who would have thought of such a thing?"

"For all Bob's modesty," Shatz went on, "he obviously, somehow or other managed to plan an event that would draw enormous attention to him, in a way that I'm sure he and we hope will never happen again. His work, his experience, as we found out, with a prior bank robbery and the work by the investigating officers was superb, and only served to confirm the good judgment from townspeople in making his selection."

After Town Clerk Teresa Iemolini administered the oath of office, Eaton (who had been officially sworn in at a private ceremony on Feb. 3) recalled how he was preparing notes for his speech on Monday afternoon. "And then it happened," he said, pausing for dramatic effect. "Stockbridge hasn't had a bank robbery since the 1930s. It's only my sixth week on the job."

"Many times over the last six weeks, I've heard there's no crime in Stockbridge, we're a quiet town," said Eaton. As the crowd laughed appreciatively, he noted "it's the home of Norman Rockwell, an American hometown, Main Street, U.S.A. Well, it happened. Six weeks. I can't wait until six months comes around."

Describing his mission, Eaton vowed "to continue to foster a trusting relationship with the community and its young people."

"The community can expect its police department and each member to be approachable, professional, ethical, fair and functioning with the highest integrity," he declared. He urged the public "to become part of the solution to any of our community problems. I also ask for feedback, both positive and negative."

Addressing his officers on the stage, Eaton promised proper training, equipment and supervision. "In return, I expect commitment, loyalty, professionalism, compassion, integrity and courage," he said.

He also asserted that he and the department will be accountable, open and accessible to the public.

"We will continue to work hard in earning your trust," Eaton concluded to prolonged applause.

Opening the ceremony, Selectwoman Deborah McMenamy called it "a historic event for him and for Stockbridge."

"We take great pride in our history and in keeping our town the beautiful, picturesque village Norman Rockwell depicted in his 1964 ‘Main Street at Christmas' image," she added. "For the most part, we try to keep life on Main Street pretty much the same as it was shown in that image. But life doesn't stay the same, and change often happens by necessity."

McMenamy had chaired the seven-member search committee of volunteer Stockbridge residents, guided by a professional consultant, who selected Eaton as one of three finalists from an initial pool of 36 candidates and nine semi-finalists.

"At every step of the way, Bob Eaton's skills, knowledge and abilities rose to the top," she commented, pointing out his 22 years on the Smithfield force, his master's degree in criminal justice and recent graduation from the FBI National Academy training program.

Citing his "problem analysis and decisiveness, adaptability skills and interpersonal insights and judgment," McMenamy noted that "Bob repeatedly demonstrated that he was the best man for the job" as the Select Board evaluated him and two other finalists. Eaton thanked the Red Lion Inn for catering the reception that followed and the town's Facilities Coordinator Chris Marsden for planning the event with other town employees.

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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