Blandford, MA – The interim police chief of Blandford led a walkout of the entire police department on Monday.
"For some time we have been dealing with unsafe working conditions. Policing is inherently dangerous, however it has been made much (more) so by our town's administration," said a letter signed by the chief and three officers of the Blandford Police Department who submitted their resignations.
The resignation letter, which was signed by Interim Police Chief Roberta Sarnacki and Officers Chris Anciello, Gage Kerlik, and Krysten Scapin, made their departure from the Blandford police force effective immediately.
The four-member Blandford Police Department said town administrators have failed to invest in the police force for a number of years, and the lack of funding has made it an unsafe work environment for the town’s first responders, MassLive reported.
"To summarize, the town is asking officers to patrol in cars that have no a/c (air conditioning), no snow tires, and no four-wheel drive ... They are asking us to do this with no radio coverage, no real backup if needed, and all for $14 or $15 an hour. Would you put your lives on the line in these conditions?" the resignation letter signed by all four members of the department read.
Officers frequently have to respond to calls in their personally-owned vehicles because the best patrol car the department has is a 2010 Crown Victoria that was purchased used from Otis Police Department.
That cruiser has no air conditioning, a seat that’s stuck permanently in the recline position, and the engine frequently overheats, according to MassLive. The brakes were also failing on the other two patrol units.
Also, neither of two remaining patrol vehicles has four-wheel drive despite the fact the town is located in the very snowy Northeast and officers frequently have to respond to calls in blizzard conditions.
"We regret leaving the town without a town police force, but we have no choice given the situation we face," the officers said in their resignation letter. "We refuse to put our lives on the line anymore for a town that seemingly cares so little about us."
The officers highlighted three recent police shootings in Massachusetts, one of which left an officer dead, and said they cannot be working without adequate equipment and protection, MassLive reported.
The resignation letter went on to say that all of the Blandford Police Department’s bulletproof vests were previously worn by other officers and do not properly fit the current officers. Also, the ballistic quality of vest deteriorates over time and all of the vests Blandford issued to their officers are past their expiration dates.
Officers also pointed to the fact that the Blandford police has had three vacancies on their force for an extended period that the Board of Selectman has not allowed to be filled. The town has been considering a merger of their police department with the nearby town of Chester’s police force and that possibility has left the current officers in limbo and without suitable backup.
But even if there were enough officers to respond as backup, much of the time Blandford’s police radios do not work anyway, the officers pointed out in their resignation.
This becomes doubly problematic when it’s factored in that there is no cell service or limited cell service in many parts of the Blandford community, MassLive reported.
Former Interim Chief Sarnacki told WWLP that the town’s board was more worried about the potential merger with the Chester Police Department than on the existing problems within the Blandford police, most of which would not be solved by the blending of the two departments.
Blandford Selectboard Chair Cara Letendre did seem more focused on sticking it to the former interim chief than addressing the very real issues raised in the former officers’ resignation letter.
“For the past two months, Interim Chief Sarnacki has done a fine job with our police officers and our police department,” Letendre told WWLP in a written statement. “It is unfortunate that she led this officer walk out as she would have been considered as one of our candidates for Acting Chief position as we pursue the future opportunities with our police force.”
Letendre said the town was already advertising for a new chief.
Blandford Selectman Eric McVey told MassLive the town was working with the Massachusetts State Police to make sure they had enough coverage in the absence of the town’s entire police force. And Hampden County Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi announced he was sending six deputy sheriffs in marked patrol units to provide a "public safety presence to a Hampden County town in need."
"I cannot allow one of our communities to have the appearance that the town will go unprotected. My team will stay in place throughout the night and we will reassess with the town of Blandford's select board on their needs in the morning," Sheriff Cocchi said.