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New sheriff in town: A talk with Steven Tompkins

Howard Manly

Gov. Deval Patrick recently appointed Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department of External Affairs Chief Steven Tompkins as Suffolk County Sheriff. Tompkins will assume responsibility for all Sheriff’s Office operations at the Suffolk County House of Correction, the Nashua Street Jail and the Civil Process Division.

In addition to providing care, custody and rehabilitative support for inmates and pre-trial detainees, Tompkins will also oversee a management, security and administrative staff of over 1,000.

“As a dedicated public servant on the frontlines of crime prevention and reentry rehabilitation, Steven brings first-hand knowledge and passion to this critical position,” Gov. Patrick said in a statement announcing Tompkins’ appointment. “I am confident in his ability to serve Suffolk County in this role and I look forward to working with him to strengthen our re-entry programs and reduce youth violence.”

Sheriff Tompkins discussed his appointment with the Banner and how his career experience will aid in his leadership of the Department.

You displayed a great deal of emotion at your swearing-in ceremony. What was that all about?

First of all, I didn’t realize that I had gotten that animated until I saw the pictures in the papers the next day. But, to your question, our mandate at the Department is care and custody of the inmate and pre-trail detainee population.

That said, I am passionate about the work that we do for several reasons. We work collaboratively with a variety of law enforcement and social service agencies to: one, safeguard the citizens of Suffolk County; two, educate youth about the loss of liberties once sentenced to jail; and three, we attempt to redirect individuals away from a life in crime.

As someone who grew up in a challenged environment and caught a couple of fortunate breaks, I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to help others improve their station in life; that includes the employees as well as the inmates. How could I not be psyched about that.

What can the public expect from the Tompkins Administration?

The public will see a continuation of the solid care, custody and control of the inmate and pre-trial detainee population, which is our charge. Frankly, following that, I will lend my time, energy and resources to several things.

First, working with youngsters to keep them out of the system.

Second, when I was Chief of External Affairs, my division was very involved with re-entry, or how ex-offenders are reintegrated into their communities. I know that Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick are working on this issue and I look forward to discussing ways in which collaboration would be possible.

Third, I am very concerned about the scarcity of detox and mental health beds and the plight of those individuals that age out of the foster care system. Far too often, in both incidences, the care that these folks need is unavailable, and if the Department can be of assistance on either front I’m all for it.

Your appointment has been questioned as being political in nature. How do you respond to that criticism?

Clearly, there is a political aspect to this job, given that I have to campaign and win an election in 2014 to keep the position; however, this is also a public safety and public affairs job.

As for the criticism of my appointment, I believe the Governor felt the continuity of service to the lives that we have jurisdiction over, to the employees of the Department and to the roughly 730,000 citizens in Suffolk County who we are charged with keeping safe was an important factor in his decision, and I am grateful that he feels the agency will continue to operate efficiently under my leadership. Former Sheriff, now [Public Safety and Homeland Security] Secretary [Andrea] Cabral, assembled stellar administrative teams on both the custody and management sides of the Department, and all of that talent has remained in place after her departure. We are good at what we do and I am pleased that we are able to continue our work without missing a beat.

Are you concerned that you have been described as a public relations specialist and spokesman for the Department with limited to no law enforcement experience?

Think about that for a second: This Department is a public agency and the Sheriff has to answer to the registered voters of the County who are now my bosses. As the Director of Communications for three years and Chief of External Affairs for the last seven, I have worked with every division of the Department and have had to explain on many occasions how each of those divisions operates to the public or the media.

If you look at my professional background you’ll discover that I have excelled in several industries including the media, finance, health care, emergency management and now law enforcement.

The common denominator in all of those professions is people. I know how to serve, manage and motivate people; beyond that, I am blessed to have a consummate team of professionals by my side that knows how to do their jobs.