Deval and the lawmen

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 19, 2006

Stepping up to the plate
Only four of the nine Democratic county sheriffs in the state have endorsed Patrick, according to the campaign. The party’s current DAs almost all skipped recent Patrick events intended to publicize his support among law-enforcement officials. Even in local media across the state, supportive quotes by Democratic law-enforcement officials have been hard to find, despite the local popularity — and absence of electoral opposition — of officeholders such as DAs William Bennett, Jonathan Blodgett, and William Keating, or Sheriffs Guy Glodis, Michael Ashe, and James DiPaola.

It’s been former Democratic prosecutors now out of office, such as Scott Harshbarger and Don Stern, who have taken swings publicly for Patrick. So too have the nonpartisan presidents of the Boston and Massachusetts Bar Associations, who wrote an op-ed in the Herald, and the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which slammed Healey and endorsed Patrick. Even Republican Ralph Martin, former Suffolk DA, penned an op-ed in the Globe praising those who advocate for the potentially wrongfully convicted.

Current officeholders, on the other hand, have seldom criticized the administration. More often, they have been seen praising Healey for her lobbying on behalf of prosecution-friendly bills on sex offenders, drunk drivers, and gang members.

“Healey has been very supportive of the DAs,” says Capeless.

But these Democratic officials have plenty with which to bash the Romney-Healey administration. The DAs could use this opportunity to talk about the very real deficiencies they see in the state’s justice system — particularly the lack of funding that has left their own offices with fewer prosecutors, and the police with fewer officers.

“It goes beyond our [DA] budgets. It goes to every part of the criminal-justice system,” says Capeless. He points to the lack of resources in the courts and probation offices — where, he says, probation officers have occasionally had to forego drug testing their charges because they couldn’t afford to order more urine-collection cups.

Other DAs and sheriffs bemoan the lack of funding for youth programs and the administration’s drastic cuts in drug-rehabilitation services, which, they strongly believe, has increased crime. “Making sure we are treating people with heroin addiction is really a political problem,” says William Keating, Norfolk DA, who feels that the current administration has largely ignored the issue. “One person addicted to opiates is a one-person crime wave.”

These funding deficiencies prevent the DAs and sheriffs from effectively enforcing the law. Yet they have never been as successful at lobbying for money as they are at in getting lawmakers to make the existing laws a little tougher.

That’s a huge political failing, which they sometimes seem incapable of grasping.

Astute pols understand that there are two ways to get more funding for what you do. One is to work public opinion by drawing attention to the problems caused by lack of funding. Law-enforcement officials almost never do this, because they think it will reflect poorly on them.

So, for instance, you never hear any of them point out that, thanks to budget cuts, the arrest rates for violent crime are plummeting. What DA wants people to know that their arrest rates are down?

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