The mayor is pushing to have the police director title changed back to police chief so Cozzaglio can retire as chief of police.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police Director Michael Cozzaglio will be retiring in February after more than 32 with the Police Department and the last 15 as director.
"In talking with my family, they've kind of grounded me with this, they've also endured this 32-year run with me and it's time, it's time," he said.
Cozzaglio, 58, plans to spend more time with his wife, Gail, three children and, as of next month, five grandchildren. "It went by very quickly, very quickly."
The announcement was made by Cozzaglio and Mayor Thomas Bernard on Friday afternoon in the mayor's office.
But Cozzaglio may not retire as police director. Bernard said he will put into motion a plan to have him retire as police chief — a designation that his replacement will also have.
"It's important to me that we search for a new chief but also that Mike, who has given 32 years to the community, retire from service as the chief of police of North Adams," the mayor said, later adding, "We think we've got the path we need to do it. It's something I hope the council will be equally supportive of."
Bernard said it was a matter of equity to put Cozzaglio and his replacement on the same footing as other chiefs and would be simpler in recruiting rather than try to explain what a police director is.
Cozzaglio, who began with the force as a reserve officer in 1986, has served under three mayors and saw the director's post restored to a level of independence it did not have under the former public safety commissioner model.
"He's going to be a tough act to follow," said Bernard. "I've worked with him very closely, and I see a mutual trust and a mutual respect and an effective relationship the last 11 months. Mike has been a good partner to me, including in some tough and challenging things that I've had to deal with as a new mayor."
He said they have had long and fruitful strategy discussions about the condition of the public safety building and how to address that, maintaining a police fleet that is effective and sustainable, and building up a trained and educated police force.
"Those are the high-level strategic things, not the coming in every day leading a department, ensuring the city is as safe as it can be," the mayor said. "I want to acknowledge that and I want to thank him."
During his tenure, Cozzaglio coordinated the response to the 2008 bank robbery and bomb threat on Main Street and the arrest of the perpetrator; was a critical part of the team overseeing police and regional emergency responses during Tropical Storm Irene; and established the city's Narcan program in 2015.
Every officer has gone through a 40-hour crisis training and the department has partnered with the Brien Center to have a clinician available to aid police officers with interventions.
"The police are part of the community, we don't stand alone," Cozzaglio said. "We need them to be part of us. That's what cop means, 'citizen on patrol.' "
Cozzaglio, left, and Sgt. Albert Zoito speak at the NAMI annual meeting in September.
It's an element that he's been trying to inculcate in the department's culture since being appointed police director in 2003. Part of it has been involving members of the force in decisions, such as uniforms and designing the new patch, and more expansive efforts to engage the community over the past six years as more opportunities arose with the city's decision to end the commissioner post.
"I wanted them to take a little more ownership in the department take a little more pride in the department and in the end I think it benefits it," he said.
The department's had about a 50 percent turnover the past six years, the director estimated, as officers have moved on or retired. He's the one of the last of the baby-boom generation on the force.
"These younger officers are motivated, they're educated, they're in tune with the younger generation," Cozzaglio said. "We see that and I continue to promote that. Community policing is a big thing. I want my officers on the streets, in the schools, in the neighborhoods talking to people."
Sometimes its small things like handing out Halloween candy or participating in school activities, other times its directly helping people comply with the law, like an officer last week who aided a driver and new city resident who forgot to register her vehicle. The police officer did it for her over her phone.
"This was a ticket and a tow," the director said. "But 10 extra minutes, it goes miles. That's the caliber of officer we have."
Officers will be more visible in the coming weeks, Cozzaglio said, by cracking down on traffic violations. This, too, will be more about educating the public and being visible than simply ticketing.
The department still has difficulty recruiting officers, a challenge it's had for years, but the hope is that removing the city from Civil Service will ease that, he said, and sometimes, it's a matter of individuals finding out "what they have in their heart" isn't what they find when they get to the streets.
Cozzaglio wasn't on a career path in law enforcement. His first work experience was selling products to supermarkets around the region. But he does remember an incident that inspired him to take the Civil Service test.
"When I was at Haskins School, I was a school safety patrol helping the kids cross the street," he chuckled. "I kind of thought this working with the kids, making sure everybody's safe, I was just a little boy, too. That kind of stirred the fire."
He was appointed a permanent patrolman in 1995 and made sergeant four years later. Former Mayor John Barrett III appointed him police director to replace the retiring Craig Millard.
"Your story is an important one when we think about the future of the department," Bernard said. "How do you use the positive example of the current officers to inspire young people to consider careers in law enforcement."
Cozzaglio is leaving with a couple regrets, including the city's designation as having the highest number of violent crimes in the state, a "number that haunts him." The florid headlines came from data supplied to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
Cozzaglio at a police commendation in City Hall in 2015.
After a couple of years at the top, the department began to question the statistics because it wasn't seeing that level of crimes purportedly being committed. Cozzaglio said a coding error was found in the data sent to the FBI that was designating misdemeanors as felonies. Officers are now checking that data before it is submitted to ensure the codes match the crime; Cozzaglio is estimating a 40 percent drop next year.
"I would have loved to have been able to move into a brand-new public safety building," he said. "That would be the No. 1 accomplishment that just hasn't been done."
His other biggest regret is that he couldn't be younger to stay longer on a job that he loves.
The mayor said he plans to convene a search committee in January and is considering a consultant, if the funding is available, to aid in the search for a new police chief. The city will also have to decide if an interim would be needed or if Cozzaglio's time could be extended.
Cozzaglio said he was willing to help out in any way, noting that he wasn't planning on leaving the city. He might even be persuaded to monitor a crosswalk or two.
"We're just trying to do our best and take of our community and the people in it," he said.
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