Class of 2011 Difference Makers

Anthony Scott

Police Chief, City of Holyoke

Anthony Scott

Anthony Scott

Anthony Scott was talking about his penchant for garnering media attention.

He insists that he’s not a publicity hound, and that newspaper headlines and broadcast sound bites “have just happened” — everywhere he’s gone, including Holyoke.

But Scott, the city’s police chief since 2001, freely admits that he tries to align himself with the press — “I meet the media on their grounds” — and use its reach to get his various messages across. “You can’t sit down and talk to 40,000 people,” he said, noting the approximate population of the Paper City, “but you can use the media to reach them.”

As for what he does with the press and how he does it, he summons a few quotes from an old Cajun friend, passed along when Scott was a young officer with the New Orleans Police Department.

“He told me to never get into a pissing contest with someone who buys their ink by the barrel, their paper by the ton, or their videotape by the mile,” Scott told BusinessWest, acknowledging that this is time-honored advice uttered by many. “He also said that, if you can’t say something kind, nice, or good, tell the truth.”

And through a 44-year career in law enforcement, that’s exactly what Scott has been doing — telling the truth. Sometimes, actually, much of the time, it comes with a little sarcasm, and more often than not it hurts those to whom he’s referring. But this certainly has never stopped the truly outspoken Scott, who will be retiring in April, from speaking his mind.

Consider these comments concerning various topics and constituencies:

On the Holyoke City Council, with which he has butted heads seemingly since the day he arrived: “It’s funny … but when an individual gets 400 or maybe 1,000 votes, they suddenly think they know more about your job than you do. I’ve only been doing this for 40-something years. I’m not trying to be a smart aleck, but I think I know a little more about law enforcement than the average politician.”

On his seemingly incessant criticism of judges for what he considers light sentences and releasing criminals on their own recognizance, and whether this campaign has made an impact: “The judiciary won’t admit it, but it has. We can see that judges are getting a little stiffer on the sentencing and bails are increasing. I’ve been a royal pain in their tuckus; they don’t like me, and personally, I don’t care. I’m here to look out for the citizens of Holyoke, and I’m going to do that until the day I walk out of this office.”

And how about this letter, which Scott wrote to the state parole board when informed that one Angel Santiago, found guilty of breaking and entering and assault on a police officer, was scheduled for a parole hearing just six days into a 60-day sentence? “Inmate Santiago hasn’t had sufficient time to adjust to the luxuries in his present surroundings within the House of Corrections before you are in a rush to push him out the door and back into the civilized community to which he has shown nothing but contempt. Once again I ask that you excuse my sense of right and wrong, but scheduling a parole hearing does not appear to be in the best interest of public safety, nor does it send a message that one must pay for the crimes they commit. Inmate Santiago is a thief, and at the young age of 21, inmate Santiago has been arraigned 11 times in the Holyoke and Springfield district courts. To even consider this rascal for parole is an insult to me, the arresting officers, and the citizens of Holyoke.”

Scott told BusinessWest that he considers such letter-writing, such telling it like it is, to be an important part of his job. He describes all of these various efforts as part of his work to be a voice for victims — and he says there are not enough of them.

“You have a lot of people out there who are very vocal about the rights of criminals, and how fairly criminals should be treated when they go to court,” he said. “There are a lot of voices out there. But not a lot of voices saying, ‘how about the victims of crime?’”

For standing up for victims and, more importantly, for making Holyoke an inhospitable place for criminals and would-be criminals, Chief Scott has made another headline, this time as one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2011.

And the chief found a little irony in the fact that he was being honored by a business publication, because he has a degree in business, and, more to the point, he approaches crime like a business.

Well, to be more specific, he says he wants to make it so criminals won’t want to do business in his city.

“If a business is operating within a city and that city continues to raise its taxes and raise its fees, and the business overhead gets to be expensive for them, they’ll relocate,” he explained. “They’ll go to another city where the taxes are lower and the fees are low enough so they can operate and make a profit.

“I look at that the same way I do at criminals,” he continued. “I try to make the overhead as high as possible; I try to wreck their drug business, I try to get fees and fines increased … and those individuals from the dark side, the attorneys, help me out a lot. They charge a great deal of money for their services. So the criminal has to pay higher attorney fees, higher fines, they lose their drugs — so they are going to seek out a city that’s not driving up the overhead. I get calls from correctional officers working in Massachusetts and Connecticut who tell me that the criminal element is telling other criminals, ‘don’t go to Holyoke — that chief is crazy.’”

Dark side?

Lawyers probably like Scott because his war on crime has created more business for them, but if they don’t, it really doesn’t matter to him. As he said, he’s told the City Council on many occasions, “I don’t do touchy-feely. My job is to remove the criminal element from the street and make the community safe.”

Scott will reach mandatory retirement age (65) in a few months, and is stepping down in April. He said his plan for life after police work — and it seems well-thought-out — is to do consulting work with police departments, handle background checks on candidates for executive positions, and similar investigatory work. He said he won’t miss the judges — and took one more shot on his way out the door, saying he’ll be extra careful in retirement “because, if I get arrested for a parking ticket, I’m going to jail” — or the city councilors. He will miss the people of Holyoke, though.

“They welcomed me into their community and made me feel at home,” he said, adding that he’s not quite sure what retirement will bring for him.

Probably more of what he’s been doing all along: telling the truth.

— George O’Brien