Bosley, Bowler Differ on Definition of Sheriff
Tom Bowler, left, Town Democratic Committee Chairman James E. Mahon Jr. and Daniel E. Bosley at Wednesday's forum.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It became clear during Wednesday night's forum that the primary difference between the two candidates for sheriff was their definition of the job: Law enforcement or public safety.
The disparity in perception can be immediately traced to the backgrounds of the two men who hope to become Berkshire County sheriff, a seat that's open for the first time in more than 30 years.
Tom Bowler, a 24-year police officer and detective in the Pittsfield Police Department, says the job is everything to do with law enforcement; Daniel E. Bosley, a 26-year legislator representing the 1st Berkshire District, says it's public safety.
"I submit this election is going to be about whether people agree that it's law enforcement job or whether it's a public safety or administrative job," said Bosley, after a verbal tussle with an apparent Bowler supporter at the end of the 90-minute session.
It was standing room only in the Selectmen's Room as supporters from Williamstown, Adams, North Adams, Lanesborough and Pittsfield packed into the chamber to hear their candidate. More than a few were clad in blue Bowler T-shirts to declare their support for the detective.
Both candidates fielded questions from the audience, ranging from mangement style to health care costs.
The forum was hosted by the Williamstown Democratic Town Committee and moderated by its Chairman James E. Mahon Jr. It was broadcast live on WilliNet and will be available later on the WilliNet website and is expected to be broadcast on Northern Berkshire Community Television.
The two Democrats are seeking to fill the seat being left vacant by retiring Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., who has held the position since 1978. With no independent or Republican candidate, the election will essentially be decided in the Sept. 14 primary.
During the forum, the candidates took questions from the audience and, in large part, agreed on the broader needs of the job, including that the sheriff has role to play as a social service provider for inmates in terms of rehabilitation and substance-abuse services.
"I firmly believe that the individual, you have to understand their behavior," said Bowler. "Not every person is a bad individual; they've made bad decisions."
As a police officer, he said, not only are you there to take care of the situation, you help families understand how they can get help. "What we like to do is educate families, show them they can make their lives better."
Bosley said he believed 75 percent of the state's sheriffs were social workers, pointing to Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe as an example.
On average, Houses of Correction have an inmate for nine months, inmates who have substance abuse problems, come from single-parent homes, poverty ... , he said, and facilities need to find ways to work with existing programs inside and outside the jails. "We need to find a way to be more seamless with the programs we have."
Both advocated more training programs, particularly vocational programs, to help inmates integrate back into the community and as a way to bring revenue to the jail — either by wages (for restitution) or selling items they created.
Bosley touted his ability as a representative to bring money into the county, including funding for the nearly decade-old House of Correction. His contacts in Boston and Washington, D.C., would help tap into federal and state monies, he said.
Bowler said he would look for innovative funding, such as private foundation grants as well as government monies, to aid with training programs and equipment.
For Bowler, election to sheriff would be the culmination of his career in law enforcement. "I feel everything I've done in the last 24 years has led me to that position."
He stressed his time as an investigator covering some of the most "horrific crimes" in Berkshire County, his understanding of the inmate population, the area's drug and gang problems, and his yearlong stint as assistant deputy superintendent overseeing security during the move into the new House of Correction facility.
"I want to work collaboratively," said Bowler, both as an administrator with the jail's staff and with local law enforcement. "There's the tremendous amount of information inside that jail. I've been able to extract that information and solve crimes ... I think I have a lot to offer as a public servant, not as a politician."
Bosley said he would ensure "bright lines of authority" and would assess performance and delegate authority as needed. "You have to let people do their jobs."
"I'm proud of the fact I'm a politician. A good politician is a statesman," he said, adding he accomplished nearly everything he'd set out to do, including several landmark legislative actions, and now wanted to focus on the county. He said he was familiar with the workings of the state's correctional facilities, including the Houses of Correction and stated "The sheriff has the opportunity to affect people's lives."
But where they disagreed was on the definition of the job, a point stressed by one of the audience members, who proceeded to engage with Bosley over the authorities given by the state to the deputy force and by Bowler's description of how he'd handled a potential uprising by 50 inmates some years ago. Deputies were law enforcement, insisted the man.
(Massimiano worked for the North Adams Housing Authority and in the probation office when he was elected sheriff.)
"I don't intend to run the [jail] that way," said Bosley of using the deputies to make arrests or back up local police. "It's tough enough to be a correctional officer within the House and our budget is stretched enough without giving people additional duties for jobs that other people do and do very well."
When the individual started giving "what if" scenarios, Bosley said he wasn't going to debate him and Bowler, too.
Bowler said he wanted to make clear that "I have no intention of putting roving patrols of officers patrolling Berkshire County. ... If [an inmate] escapes then we will work on a collaborative effort with every law enforcement authority in the county, as we have in the past."
The websites for both candidates can be found on the blog's siderail.
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