And Then What Happened?: Befriending the police

  • PARATI

For the Recorder
Published: 5/31/2021 5:42:29 PM

In 2015, I decided Elmer’s Store needed a bar. Some applauded the idea, others warned me of the trouble bars bring, but I added one and true to all predictions, it brought both money and crazy-town to my little restaurant.

Shortly in, we attracted a guy no one had seen before; a man who discovered and made Elmer’s his new favorite hangout. He’d come in every night, sit at the bar and tell dark stories that seemed to involve delight in harm inflicted on others, making our late-night staff nervous.

At the time we had a brand new police chief in town, a woman named Beth Bezio, whose husband, Fred, was one of her officers.

I was just impressed that she had married a man who wasn’t afraid to let his wife be his literal chief, so I went to talk to Chief Beth about this guy at the bar. I’d never been able to learn his real name, so Beth proposed that she and Officer Fred come hang out at the bar in their plain, non-police clothing a couple of nights, and see if they could find out who he was and what, exactly, he was up to.

The police chief and her husband walk into a bar, and at the time they were so new in town that none of our regular patrons recognized them. Chief Beth and Officer Fred did their investigative work in the friendliest fashion possible, learned the man’s motives, then issued and enforced a no-trespassing order, making sure Mr. Scary Man never entertained himself at our expense again.

There are a lot of things that make you appreciate a police chief, and that was my first with Chief Beth.

Since then, she’s helped me with a number of issues, and I hear enough about the stuff she’s doing around town that makes today a good time to call for Celebrate Chief Beth Day! (It’s not official — I made it up, just now.) Someone said that, not since Walt Zalinski, Ashfield’s first paid chief back in the 1960s, has a police chief in Ashfield been so beloved as Beth is. Walt’s still famous for dressing like Santa Claus and driving his police car to kids’ houses on Christmas Eve delivering Christmas goodness in the form of gifts and candy.

Brian Dickinson, Ashfield’s premier juvenile delinquent back in the day (now reformed), says, “Walt used to settle issues at the kitchen table, where they should be settled.” Beth is of the same mindset where possible, though, just ’cause she’s a girl doesn’t mean she’s not tough when tough is required. Beth has the gift of Stand-Back Insight — taking in the whole picture of a bad situation and figuring out how to handle it with the least incendiary methods, building where she needs to, keeping it calm as long as she can.

She maintains a stash of toys in the cruiser, hoping to allay children’s fears, whether it’s because she’s had to stop a speeder who has their child along for the ride, or just in daily interaction.

At the pandemic outset, older people suddenly dreaded leaving their houses. Beth teamed up with local collective Ashfield Needles and Threads to sew masks that her officers distributed to Ashfield’s elders. The stories the officers brought back were those of fear and loneliness. People were happy to receive masks but happier to receive a visitor. Beth turned to Ashfield Resource Officer Gretchen Gerstner, who happens to also own the bakery, Baked, in Shelburne Falls, and the two created a plan where Gretchen baked treats that she delivered personally.

As the year progressed, the Sweet Treat visits brought new reports of frustration recipients had, trying to set up vaccine appointments. Many older people lack computer literacy, and those who could make contact couldn’t get appointments for months. Chief Beth learned that the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office was administering shots in assisted-living facilities, so she called and scheduled a vaccine clinic for Ashfield’s Town Hall, administering, at least, the first shot right away.

I asked Beth what led her to become police chief. She said she’d started life as an art student, which explains the present exhibit at the Ashfield Post Office, a collection of lovely drawings by Police Chief Beth Bezio. But it was her desire to help people, really help them in a way that few other jobs allow, that drew her to the police academy and then, ultimately to her first chief’s job in Ashfield.

For Beth, it’s all about community — recognizing that community makes us safer. And for those who say, “There’s no crime in Ashfield,” she knows, we know, there is. As she points out, “Crime doesn’t have to be violent,” though sometimes it even shows up within families as well as from outsiders. Crime sneaks in as fraud and larceny, and police help with animal control, mediation and sometimes even, caring for our elders.

So happy Celebrate Chief Beth Day whatever day you read this. Thanks, Chief Beth! We appreciate you and your work, mightily.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at NanParati@aol.com.



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