State police Lt. Brian Foley, left, regaled the crowd and Commissioner E. John Morocco with stories of their time together working drug busts.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 100 current and former law enforcement officers, city officials, emergency responders, friends and family filled the American Legion on Saturday night to toast — and roast — retired Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco.
"You're going to get more citations in two hours than you wrote in 40 years," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, joking that Morocco began working so long ago his shield came with a sword before presenting him with a citations from the city and U.S. Sen. John Kerry with "gratitude and deep respect" for his service.
It was like that much of the night — joshing and often uproarious stories about the commissioner's "night raids" on woodland marijuana fields, adventures with evidence and handcuffs, volcanic temper and now legendary calamities with motor vehicles of all types (incurring the ire of more than one fellow officer) offset with deep appreciation for his professionalism, dedication and mentorship.
Morocco — known variously as EJ, John and just "the Commish" — took it all in good humor at the head table with his wife, Susan, daughter, Tammy, and son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Lynn Morocco.
He served the city for more than four decades under five administrations, beginning as a park police officer at Windsor Lake in 1966 and the last 16 years as public safety commissioner.
"I was always impressed with you ... you always did everything you could, as best you could for our community, and we really appreciate that," said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, a former city councilor, presenting with yet another citation.
Speakers including former Pittsfield and Falmouth Police Thomas Riello, Adams Police Chief Donald Poirot, retired state police Maj. John Flaherty (who joined the force with Morocco), Sheriff Thomas Bowler and state police Lt. Brian Foley spoke to his work as an officer and as a member of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, of which he is a founding member.
"You've always been there as a mentor," said Poirot, presenting Morocco with a rocking chair on behalf of the Western Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association. (Morocco also received a second matching chair from the state police.)
Dan Johnson, representing U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, said the congressman had read a recognition on the floor of the House into the Congressional Record on "the dedication of Commissioner Morocco has had for his job and to the people that has made North Adams a safer place to live and call home."
Commissioner Morocco's Service
Windsor Lake Park Police Officer
North Adams Provisional Police Officer
June 19, 1967
Permanent Reserve Police Officer
March 20, 1977
Permanent Police Officer
Jan. 14, 1980
March 19, 1985
April 2, 1995
Commissioner of Public Safety
July 10, 1996
Sept. 30, 2012
District Attorney David Capeless, who had the flu, sent an "indictment" read by Assistant District Attorney Joseph Pierpan that Morooco "did at all times conduct himself with dignity, integrity, decency and fairness and did at all times display good humor unswerving equanimity and a gentle fairness with almost all with whom he dealt ... despite exemplary ability to mangle the English language and profound inability to properly command any motor vehicle and a more profound inability to simply say goodbye and be done with it."
Fire Director Stephen Meranti and Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, the men behind the roast, presented Morocco with a shadowbox of every badge he'd held, patches for both departments and his handcuffs.
A PowerPoint presentation looked at his life as a youngster, as a star football player for Drury (teammate Flaherty described him as "tenacious and ferocious"), marriage, children and career. Cozzaglio also handed him is "iron claw," an old-time handcuff, and Meranti his unused fire helmet — after making a show of blowing the dust off.
Morocco was appointed commissioner by then Mayor John Barrett III. Barrett said he chose Morocco because of the gang and drug situation in the county at the time.
"I knew there was only one person who could do it and bring this department up to speed," said Barrett. "He was the first one in the county to bring computers into the police cars, he was the fist one to understand technology ... He understood the importance of education ... I saw him as the future.
"He finally convinced me that public safety was important to the community in a lot of ways and that we had to do a lot more than go out and arrest people."
Morocco is credited with modernizing the police force, developing the city's first DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in the schools, working closely with TRIAD, and being a leader in the drug task force.
He is the longest serving and also the city's last public safety commissioner. The position was created some 30 years ago as a cost savings but there are few comparable posts in the state.
That led city officials to ask for a home-rule petition nearly three years ago to keep Morocco on past the state-mandated retirement age; a year later, he went part-time and his tenure keep getting extended until finally retiring on Sept. 30 last year.
The Rev. David Anderson joked that the saying was you tell the measure of a man by how he's replaced: "But you're not being replaced."
The commish said he's still getting used to retirement, noting that no longer able to chew out his directors, his dog has been taking the brunt. "I yell at him the first 20 minutes of every day, he just wags his tail," he laughed.
He thanked his wife and the mayors who gave him a chance, pointed to his "beautiful kids," and told "the other woman in his life," senior clerk Anne Perry, how much he missed her.
"Every day I get up and thank God for the guy who created this job," he said. "I've had fun in my career ... It's been a trip and everybody that's here has touched my life in one way or another, I really really appreciated you being here."
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