Turco, public safety secretary, to retire

Plans to focus on police reform in last months on job

STATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AFTER TWO YEARS at the top of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and more than 30 years working in law enforcement and the justice system, Secretary of Public Safety Tom Turco plans to retire at the end of the year, he told employees Wednesday morning.

“After more than 30 years of public service, and following many long discussions with my family, I recently made the decision to retire at the end of this year,” the secretary wrote in an email to staff. “While I greatly look forward to spending much more time with my wife and children in the years to come, there is one thing I will greatly miss: the opportunity to lead a staff of such talented public safety professionals, who have risen to meet unprecedented challenges on behalf of the people we serve.”

Before joining Gov. Charlie Baker’s Cabinet in December 2018, when he took over for Dan Bennett, Turco was Department of Correction commissioner and previously served as undersecretary for criminal justice. His departure will open a seat in the cabinet, which has been stable since the start of the governor’s second term.

“Over 32-plus years, it was just time,” Turco said Wednesday after a visit to a Westminster facility that helps treat first responders who suffer from emotional distress after responding to tragic incidents. “There just comes a time when you reflect on your career and you know when the time is to move on.”

Before joining the Baker administration in 2015, Turco led the probation department for Worcester County as chief probation officer of Worcester Superior Court for about 12 years. A Central Massachusetts native, Turco began his career as a probation officer at the Florida Department of Correction in 1988.

As secretary, Turco oversaw the establishment of a sexual assault kit tracking system and a statewide crime statistics website, worked on reforms to the Massachusetts State Police after a series of scandals at the force, and was part of the implementation of the 2018 criminal justice reform law. He has been active this session in pressing lawmakers to adopt some of Baker’s priorities, like Baker’s bill dealing with criminal dangerousness.

In his three-plus months left as secretary, Turco said he wants to see the policing reform bill currently in conference committee on Beacon Hill make it across the finish line.

“That’s something the governor and I have spoken in depth on and it’s something that both of us would like to see, and we want to work with law enforcement and the Legislature to come up with a police reform bill that mirrors where criminal justice reform came out a couple of years ago,” he said.

Turco said he has no plans to take time off between now and the end of the year. “I plan on accomplishing some of the goals we had as an administration and police reform is one of the biggest pieces,” he said.

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Over the last eight months, one of the greatest challenges of Turco’s time as secretary emerged: COVID-19. The secretary said he was most proud of the way the agencies under EOPSS continued to work through the pandemic and “didn’t let COVID affect their lives.”

In April, Turco tested positive for COVID-19 and was out of work for about two weeks as he recovered. Turco’s message to staff Wednesday morning made no mention of his bout with the coronavirus.

“I still have some effects from it and I have some good doctors that monitor my condition and all,” he said. Turco is also a cancer survivor.