NORTH ADAMS -- For 46 years, Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco served as a member of the North Adams Police Department, beginning in 1967 as provisional police officer. His service and dedication to the community was honored by state and local officials and law enforcement officers Saturday night, during a retirement roast at the American Legion.
"I think we're all really, really looking forward to having an opportunity to toast you, roast you, tell some stories and rattle your cage," said Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, who organized the dinner with Fire Director Steve Meranti, at the beginning of the evening.
Many of Morocco's well-wishers asked if he had truly retired, referring to his extended time in the position of commissioner. Morocco was set to retire in 2010 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65, but a home rule petition approved by the state Legislature allowed him to remain in the position for two more years. Morocco bowed out on June 30, 2011, citing the city's fiscal concerns at the time, but remained on as "acting commissioner" until Sept. 30, 2012 while city officials reassessed the public safety department's structure.
"As most of you know, the commissioner retired in June 2010, and then I appointed him acting commissioner a couple more times," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said as he presented Morocco with several citations honoring his service, including one from Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray.
Adams Police Chief Donald Poriot, who recently finished his tenure as president of the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, presented Morocco with a rocking chair and lifetime membership in the association.
"I've been trying to catch up with John for the last two years to make this presentation," he said. "Over the years John, I've come to know you as someone who I've held in the highest esteem."
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, who brought a citation from the state Senate, spoke of Morocco's achievements.
"At the State House, we talk a lot about community policing programs. When you talk about community policing, I don't think there is any better person that personifies that than John Morocco," he said. "The best public servant starts and focuses on the community and is part of the community. So, when something goes wrong, when something tragic happens, we know exactly who to call. We knew to call John. I'm here to say thank you for your service to this community, to this region and for being a mentor and a friend."
Retired State Police Maj. John Flaherty, who grew up with Morocco, playing football and eventually joining the city's police force with him in the late 1960s, joked about the commissioner's legacy as a bad driver and the number of police cruisers he'd put out of service during his tenure.
Berkshire County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Pierpan, who has known the commissioner for 25 years, presented Morocco with an "indictment" on behalf of District Attorney David Capeless, who was home with the flu.
"John's participation in the Berkshire County Drug Task Force has resulted in the level of professionalism that has trickled down to the newcomers in local and state law enforcement," he said. "I think you are the paradigm of success."
City Councilor John Barrett III, former mayor, joked that Morocco had the "distinction of being the worst employee" he ever had," but also honored Morocco as a man of vision when it came to law enforcement.
"He modernized the police department," Barrett said. "When I appointed him lieutenant, I hadn't spoken to him in five years, that's how mad I was at him. But I recognized in him the ability [to make changes]. There had been some tough incidents with drugs at that time. We hadn't modernized how we could deal with it, and I recognized that he would be the one to do it."