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By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Nothing thrilled a then 16-year-old Jeff Silva more than getting the chance to do a ride-along with a Texas state trooper.
Maybe he didn’t know it then that police work would be the path he’d choose. But you could tell. It was in his blood.
He’d seize every moment — school vacations, summers and holidays — to fly out from his home in Dartmouth to San Antonio just to ride around in his older brother’s cruiser.
As a young kid in the mid 1980s, Silva thought, “Oh, yeah, maybe I’ll be a police officer.”
In high school, when he got the chance to ride with his brother, he thought, “Yeah, this is kind of interesting.”
Perhaps it was a foreshadowing moment when, upon completion of his high school junior year, Silva was elected police chief by the American Legion Massachusetts Boys State program.
“Strangely, considering I was just a kid and didn’t have a real cognizant sense of what the job would involve too much — even just for the little of what I knew at the time — it seemed like a pretty ominous responsibility,” he said.
“The Boys State program really went out of their way to try and explain to you the different roles … whether you were a senator, elected mayoral official, a representative — or a police chief. It seemed like it was a lot of responsibility.”
Now, 30 years later, he continues on that same path — this time, for real — as police chief for the town of Westwood.
While he knew police work was a great way to help people, he saw the potential danger in the job and the long hours involved — and then thought, “This isn’t for me.”
But big brother Greg knew better.“Jeff was very taken by it. He loved to learn, asked tons of questions — and he’d want to stay out on the road as long as humanely possible,” recalls Greg Silva. “He didn’t want to go on breaks. I’d tell him, ‘You’ll burn out if you don’t take a break every now and then.’
“Even if I mentioned about stopping for a bite to eat, he’d say, ‘can’t we just go to the drive-through?’”
Something Always There
“He didn’t just fall upon police work,” Greg Silva says. “It was something always there.
Silva grew up in Dartmouth, MA.
In his junior year at Bishop Stang High School, a local American Legion post approached the school’s administrator, interested in selecting students for the Boys State program who excelled academically as well as those who demonstrated potential for future leadership ability. Silva was among a half dozen students selected.
Silva then went to live with his brother in Texas to finish high school.
After graduating from high school, Silva returned to Massachusetts to attend Stonehill College. But every chance he got, he spent it with his brother — and that civilian ride-along.
“I was just proud to see my brother in action,” Silva said. “He was always someone I was close to and looked up to in a lot of ways — an army military police officer and decorated state trooper.
“Riding with him not only gave me a chance to have a front row seat to watch someone I always admired, it served as bonding time for us as well. I love him and I missed him very much when he moved to Texas.”
Greg Silva describes his brother as a charismatic, happy go-lucky, get along with everybody kind of guy.
Even as a little guy, Jeff’s wit and easy-going demeanor stood out. He was enamored and taken by their maternal grandfather, a dapper, well-dressed insurance agent who also played the organ.
“Jeff might have been six or seven, if that, when I remember him putting on our grandfather’s hat, wearing big sunglasses and playing the organ himself, often by ear,” Greg Silva recalls.
He even excelled at roller-skating when, at the age of 12, he won several regional competitions and even competed nationally.
“Jeff had a good friend base … a bunch of nice kids,” Greg says, “several of whom went on to become police officers.
Silva majored in criminal justice and political science.
A college classmate wanted to enroll in the police academy and implored Silva to accompany him on the police exam – just because he didn’t want to take it alone.
Of course, Silva obliged, albeit reluctantly. But that classmate’s career as a police officer was short-lived.
Silva then enrolled in a graduate program at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he majored in Spanish.
While at Middlebury, he met FBI agents, with whom he has remained friends, who had been sent by the government to learn foreign languages.
He studied in Spain and finished graduate school. Then, unexpectedly, the police exam he took with his friend in college circled back.
He had student loans and aspirations of becoming an FBI agent. But fate had other plans.
Then came the New Bedford Police Department, where he went from answering phones to working as a beat officer — to being commander of the downtown precinct day shift.
The promotions continued as he became an investigator, a homicide detective, and rose to the rank of sergeant working in internal affairs. He was assigned to the federal drug task force with the Drug Enforcement Administration and got promoted to lieutenant, public information officer and assistant to the chief.
He was then sent to the FBI National Academy for law enforcement executives, for which less than one percent of police officers in the country are selected. He was made chief of detectives in New Bedford.
During it all, he earned a law degree.
Many of his former colleagues in New Bedford still remember him.
Chief Joe Cordeiro remembers Silva’s way with the kids — some mandated by court — at the junior police academy, using humor and discipline to grab their attention and engage them.
“We often would go for walks downtown for a cup of coffee and mingle with townies,” Cordeiro recalls. “One time Jeff broke away and sprinted across the street to help an elderly person.
“That’s the kind of stuff he did … off the cuff.
“And what I would learn from him there were times he had in his heart he always fought for the underdog. He had a soft spot. Anytime he would find someone who was absolutely the underdog, up against the wall … I would see him turn around and go above and beyond to try and help that person who didn’t have a chance. Even the police officer who wasn’t as popular, he’d go out of his way to stand up for that person.”
Even before anti-bullying was fashionable, Silva took a stand against people who pushed other people around.
“It was a big loss for us … no doubt about it … when he left to become chief of police in Westwood.”
Silva did things he didn’t necessarily have to do to help others.
Former detective Dean Fredericks remembers Silva designed a program for other police officers to learn Spanish.
“It was his way to keep them safe,” said Fredericks, now a detective with the Collier County Sheriff’s office in South West Florida. “He taught them key phrases like, ‘hands up,’ ‘drop your weapon,’ … things that hadn’t been done before.”
They dealt with criminals in predominately Spanish-speaking neighborhoods.
“We would be acting like we didn’t have any idea what they were speaking about, but Jeff knew the entire time what they were saying. It was very helpful when we were doing drug work or searching a house with a warrant,” Fredericks said. “They’d say to themselves the drugs were hidden behind the board in the walls and Jeff understood — and we’d find what we were searching for.
“I kind of followed him to a certain extent. We were both detectives in the same division. When he moved up from detective sergeant to detective lieutenant, I moved up to detective sergeant. When he left, I replaced him.
“To me, Jeff is a loyal and committed friend. If he tells you he’ll do something for you, you don’t have to worry; it’ll be done and done well.”
Those days when Silva was a kid are still etched in his mind.
“Riding with my brother and the other troopers was not only interesting but rewarding,” he said. “I felt like I was doing my part to help by acting as a Spanish interpreter — service to the community, if you will.
“I felt like I wasn’t just helping the troopers, I was also helping the people who wanted and needed to communicate, but could not do so without my help.”
Silva remembers his time with the American Legion Massachusetts Boys State program. And he still feels the responsibility of the position and his obligation to all the officers who work for him
“I think about them all the time,” he says. “Particularly, not so much the last six months, but over the last couple of years when every time you turned on the television you saw this anti-police sentiment … violence against police officers. It causes you a lot of sleepless nights.
“I am definitely acutely aware of the fact while I’m in my office working on a budget or in a classroom talking to some children, the police officers that work for me are out there on the front lines potentially facing life-or-death situations.
“It’s humbling, and will keep you awake at night. But,” he added, “it gives me an intense sense of pride knowing there are people like we have here in Westwood that are willing to go out and do those things — and do it so well.
“They deserve all the credit — and I’m very proud of them.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications. For comments and suggestions she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.