Former Somerset Police chief announces run for Bristol County sheriff
The first contested election for Bristol County sheriff in over a decade got a new challenger last week when retired Somerset Police Chief George McNeil announced his candidacy for the office.
McNeil joins Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux and Fall River attorney Nick Bernier in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination, the winner of which will take on Republican incumbent Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.
McNeil said he was inspired to run because of his frustration with systemic problems in the department like a “top heavy” staffing structure that employs too many administrators and not enough corrections officers, leaving the jails understaffed.
“I was a little bit aggravated to see what was going on with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department and the whole system there — I thought it was broken,” he said. “[Sheriff Hodgson] has lost a lot of corrections officers just over the past year… So, just staffing the jails is an issue.”
He added that programs, like vocational training, that help inmates re-enter society on better footing are often the first thing to go when there are not enough staff members to cover them all.
With 37-years experience in law enforcement, including seven as police chief, McNeil said he has the experience he needs to better manage the department and the leadership skills to increase morale and replenish its dwindling team of correctional officers.
“When I was in Somerset, I cared about my officers — I always wanted to give them a shot at doing something different, whether it was a new program or just getting involved,” he said. “We need to hire people and by [giving them the opportunity to help in their own way] you’ll retain them — they won’t want to leave. We can’t be neglecting the people that work for us and do the grunt work. We have to take care of them.”
McNeil added that another crucial part of retaining officers would be getting the department’s pay scale in line with sheriff’s departments in other counties, as he said wages were among the lowest in the state for correctional officers.
Despite his confidence that proper management could turn the staffing shortage around, McNeil said that the issue would still be one of the department’s biggest challenges in the near future as law enforcement officers are becoming more scarce across the country.
Among other top issues that McNeil said he would address was lowering the county’s recidivism rate — the percentage of inmates who reoffend after being released.
By easing their transition back into society with programs like vocational training, mental health counseling, and halfway houses, McNeil said that inmates will have viable options to get their lives back on track.
“You could have people training [detainees] before they leave so they have some shot when they leave to have a decent job,” he said. “The other thing is people are leaving there homeless. They don’t have a place to go — they’re being left off in parking lots… What do you expect them to do? They’re going to reoffend.”
McNeil specifically cited a tractor trailer simulator that he said the department owns but doesn’t have enough officers to run as a program that could give inmates a leg up if it was available.
“If you have proper staffing levels you can do these things,” he said.
McNeil summed up his candidacy as being the right person to turn the department around on a structural level.
“The sheriff’s department definitely needs a change agent right now,” he said. “They need someone to come in with a different set of eyes and different people to lead to get the place back on track.”
McNeil has a master’s degree in criminal justice and a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science. He was also an adjunct professor at Bridgewater State University for 11 years and served as President of the Bristol County Chiefs of Police Association for three years.
Sheriff terms are six years.
Democrats hoping to secure the nomination will face off in a primary election on Sept. 6.
The final chosen candidate will then take on Hodgson during the general election on Nov. 8.