Gov. Patrick taps Sheriff Cabral as public safety chief

Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday introduced the new members of his cabinet, including Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral as his public safety chief.

“I think this is an unbelievable opportunity to really move public safety forward in the next two years,” Cabral told reporters after a press conference at the State House. “I think there are going to be very solid, very bold initiatives by the governor and things that I personally support.”

Cabral, who has served as sheriff since 2002, said she believes she can do “bigger and bolder things” on a statewide level instead of a county-wide level. Suffolk County includes Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere.

Sentencing reform is a top priority for her, she said.

Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Marybeth Heffernan is stepping down from the job as Patrick heads into the final two years of his second term.

Patrick has the power to appoint Cabral's successor, who will serve out her term. Asked if she has any names to recommend to the governor, Cabral said, “I’m going to be talking with the governor about it. I think, the thing that made me very happy was how focused he is on the good work that has gone on thus far and how important it is to continue that good work. So I think that’s a priority for me and I think it’ll be a priority for him as well.”

Cabral said the timeline for an appointment is “as expeditiously as possible.” She added: “Hopefully, it will be done in relatively short order.”

Cabral takes her new post in January.

The sheriff, one of fourteen in Massachusetts, is elected every six years and oversees the Suffolk County Jail, the Suffolk County House of Correction and the Civil Process Division, according to the office’s website.

Asked if she’s looking for her replacement to have a background in law enforcement or corrections, Cabral said, “I’m not going to commit to any particular background at this point. Really, it’s the ability to grasp the job, to do the job well, and have the right priorities for the job. And a vision for where corrections should be for the future. That’s very important.”

Acting Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, tapped Cabral as Suffolk County sheriff in 2002. Cabral, who registered as a Republican before taking the job, ran as a Democrat for the post in 2004 against City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy. She won handily and won reelection in 2010.

She has worked as a staff attorney for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County and Suffolk County, and assistant attorney general.

Cabral is a Boston College graduate who received her law degree from Suffolk University.

Political observers frequently mention her as a potential candidate for mayor if the current incumbent, Thomas Menino, doesn’t run for another term.

“I don’t know,” she said, when asked if she would consider jumping in. “I haven’t made any decisions about that.”