Former Somerset Police Chief George McNeil has entered the race to be the Democratic nominee for Bristol County Sheriff with the belief that his time as a chief law enforcement officer gives him the necessary experience and expertise needed to reform the Bristol County Sheriff's Office.

Prior to becoming Chief of Police in Somerset, McNeil had over three decades of experience in policing. He graduated first in his class in 1987 from the Foxboro Police Academy and joined the Randolph Police Department. McNeil then rose through the ranks of the Randolph PD and was eventually appointed to be the accreditation manager, leading the department to get its initial certification. His education includes a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Criminal Justice at Ana Maria College.

Chief McNeil was also an adjunct professor at Bridgewater State University for 11 years, where he taught courses in policing and corrections (and once had a certain local talk radio personality as a student). McNeil stays involved in policing work assessing police departments with the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission.

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McNeil said during his time as Somerset police chief and President of the Bristol County Chiefs of Police Association, he and the other chiefs tried to foster a more collaborative effort with incumbent Sheriff Tom Hodgson, but to little avail.

"We invited the sheriff several times to some of our meetings. He would always send a representative, never himself," McNeil said when he joined me on-air recently. "We finally got him to come to a meeting a year and a half ago, and obviously some of the chiefs have some issues with him, and some of the protocol at the jails, particularly Ash Street, which we never hammered out. I just thought his lack of networking with the chiefs was poor."

McNeil also said that based on his conversations with people who work at the BCSO facilities, both counselors and corrections officers, the prison is in need of comprehensive reform.

"There needs to be change there, because the recidivism rate continues to be high, it's up near 80 percent, that means people are reoffending," McNeil said. "They are not being rehabilitated, nor are they receiving the mental wellness treatment that they need...over 50 percent of the people leaving there or entering there have a mental health issue which is not being addressed. That needs to be addressed and the addiction counseling needs to be an emphasis in order for people not to reoffend."

McNeil also said that currently there is a major issue of personnel management at the BCSO that is causing the department to hemorrhage staff.

"He had well over 300, around 360 officers about a year or so ago. He's down to 294, I think, right now," McNeil said. "That's a huge drop and he has another 37 eligible to retire. What that leads to is an unsafe environment not just for the detainees there, but also for the officers working."

Some of the reasons McNeil citied for the loss in personnel were low pay and a forced overtime policy that make working conditions for corrections officers untenable.

When asked about the controversial Ash Street Jail, one of the oldest active jails in the United States, McNeil stated he supports shutting it down. Due to Ash Street Jail's dated infrastructure, it is often argued by corrections experts, lawyers, and reform activists that the facility is categorically unsafe for both inmates and corrections offices. McNeil said he would like to phase it out while focusing more resources toward improving the infrastructure of the Dartmouth facility, which as currently constructed can hold about 500 more people than are currently being held there.

Chief McNeil and I also discussed the cancellation of Sheriff Hodgson's contract with ICE and why he thinks the role of sheriff should be limited to local correction, how he would collaborate better with local police departments as sheriff, and why he thinks his experience and cultural understanding of criminal justice matters makes him the best candidate to face Hodgson in the general election and reform the BSCO.

You can listen to the full conversation here:

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