Daniel J. Bennett is used to looking at things from different
angles. During an impressive legal career as both a prosecutor and
defense attorney, he's often been on opposite sides of the same
issues. Now he has an opportunity to analyze issues from a
leadership standpoint and help craft policies that keep the
commonwealth a safer place.
Bennett, the senior first assistant for the Worcester County
District Attorney's Office for the last four years, was appointed
by Gov. Charlie Baker to serve as secretary of the Executive Office
of Public Safety and Security in early February. This role includes
oversight of 13 state public safety agencies including the State
Police, Department of Correction, Parole Board, Massachusetts
Emergency Management Agency and the State Police Crime
The broad scope of the position also includes management of
agencies such as the Massachusetts National Guard, the Sex Offender
Registry Board and the state's 911 Department. Bennett has four
undersecretaries that report to him and cover specific areas.
Named a Prosecutor of the Year in 2013 by the Massachusets
District Attorneys Association, Bennett acknowledges that his
experience on both sides of the legal profession has given him a
unique ability to appreciate many viewpoints, including those that
differ from his own.
"Some of the best relationships I ever built were with defense
attorneys when I was a prosecutor and with prosecutors when I was a
defense attorney," said Bennett.
Many of those who were on opposite sides of the courtroom from
Bennett during his career were some of the first to call and
congratulate him on his appointment.
Before coming to Worcester, Bennett spent four years as senior
trial counsel in the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office.
He also worked 11 years as criminal defense counsel in private
practice and served as an assistant district attorney in the
Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. A Bay State native,
Bennett is a graduate of Harvard University and Suffolk University
Although it is early on in the Baker administration, there are
several ongoing public safety initiatives that will be looked at as
priorities in Bennett's area.
In addition to finding creative solutions to the overall public
safety budget, a key priority for the governor will be to work with
the Department of Correction and Parole Board to reduce the rate of
recidivism with re-entry programs for inmates.
"Gov. Baker wants to work inmates back into society with a plan
for where to live and where to get a job so they can re-integrate
back into the community and are less likely to re-offend," said
Bennett. "If you look across the country it's not a conservative or
a liberal issue. It cuts across both sides of the spectrum. It's
more an issue of good government."
Bennett notes that specialty courts, particularly drug courts, can
play a key role in working to curb the recidivism rate.
"Drug courts make a lot of sense when you talk about recidivism.
We need to get people out of that terrible cycle where they commit
an offense, we place them into incarceration and they come out and
commit another offense," said Bennett. "One way to get them out of
that cycle is through drug court. There's certainly a problem with
opium right now within the commonwealth and something has to be
done to address that."
Bennett has been in the new position for only a couple of months,
but has already made an impression throughout both the legal and
criminal justice communities.
"Secretary Bennett has clearly proven over the past few months to
be very accessible and keenly interested in the statewide bar's
perspective on criminal justice matters," said MBA Chief Legal
Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy.
Perception of police
Public safety, specifically as it relates to police, has
recently been part of the national conversation after the shooting
and death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last
August. Some protests of police activity in other parts of the
country resulted in violence, but the protests in Boston were
handled by police without incident.
While a tumultuous relationship between the public and the police
has developed in some areas since last summer, that typically has
not been the case in Massachusetts, a state where police were
celebrated after the apprehension of Boston Marathon bombing
suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in April 2013.
"In Massachusetts I think people have a good perception of the
police and I think the important thing is to work with the police
to make sure that continues," said Bennett. "Police officers are
individuals, and you have to look at every situation as an
Criminal justice attorney compensation
A May 2014 report of the MBA's Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal
Justice Attorney Compensation found that salaries of attorneys who
work in the state's criminal justice system are inadequate. The
report also found that salaries of entry-level assistant district
attorneys rank well below those in neighboring states such as New
Hampshire and Connecticut.
In his role as senior first assistant DA in Worcester, Bennett
oversaw assistant district attorneys and witnessed firsthand the
challenges that mid-level ADAs face in terms of salary. Many stay
for a few years to gain experience and then go on to better paying
positions. Losing that mid-level ADA definitely presents a
challenge for a DA's office, according to Bennett.
"You're in a cycle where, unless there is an unusual circumstance,
you're always going to lose the people that you've trained," he
A proven problem solver
Two of Bennett's most valuable qualities gleaned from his
experience as a prosecutor are his problem-solving skills and his
ability to deal with people in stressful situations.
When Bennett addresses a problem he doesn't panic and he often
looks past the seemingly obvious answer. He analyzes all the
information and tries to find a different type of answer to solve
"One thing my experience as a prosecutor has helped me with is the
ability to take a problem or an issue that comes up on a daily
basis and look for an inventive solution to attack that problem,"
"Dan will always educate himself on an issue before he makes a
decision. Some people jump to conclusions, but he doesn't," said
MBA President-elect Robert W. Harnais, who worked with Bennett in
private practice in Quincy. "When you have a conversation with him,
you know he's really listening to you. He was someone I would turn
to for advice on cases all the time."
Gerry Leone, a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP and former Middlesex
County District Attorney, has known Bennett since high school and
was his college roommate at Harvard where they played football
"Dan Bennett embodies a special combination of intelligence and
mental toughness, personal drive and passion for things he cares
about, and dedication to successfully accomplishing whatever goal
and objective that he is focused on achieving," said Leone.
During his time in Worcester County, Bennett prosecuted multiple
murder cases and often dealt with people in high-stress situations.
To succeed in that kind of situation, Bennett learned not to get
caught up in the emotions surrounding those cases.
"You have to be the calming influence without getting to their
level of stress. You can be an advocate for a position without
taking it personally," said Bennett.
Bennett particularly enjoyed his four years working in Worcester
where he oversaw all aspects of office administration, including
personnel, finance and victim witness services.
"Dan was a great fit for our office,'' said Worcester County
District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. "I loved having him around
and hated to see him go. The young attorneys in the office learned
a lot from him and the victims' families benefitted from his hard
work. His work on our unresolved cases in particular was exemplary.
Dan is going to be a success wherever he goes."
Throughout his career as both a prosecutor and defense attorney,
Bennett has helped people on a case-by-case basis. In his new
position, he looks forward to helping make Massachusetts safer for
"As a DA you can make real differences, changing lives and making
things better for individual people," he said. "Here, you can make
changes in policies that can improve lives for a lot of people.
That's something to really aspire to."