The town of Blandford is suddenly without a police department.
The four-member department announced their resignation Monday night via a news release sent to media outlets by interim Blandford Police Chief Roberta Sarnacki.
Blandford residents have been advised to continue calling 911 in the event of an emergency. All other police-related calls should be directed to the state police barracks in Russell, at 413-862-3312, until further notice. Blandford resident Douglas Emo told 22News state police can take longer to arrive once they are called, which worries him.
The department consisted of Interim Chief Sarnacki and three officers– Officer Chris Anciello, Officer Gage Terlik, and Officer Krysten Scapin.
Sarnacki told 22News the department resigned for several reasons, including inadequate staffing, poor pay, and the quality of equipment.
In the news release, Sarnacki said the officers make about $15 an hour and have to drive cruisers with no air conditioning, no 4-wheel drive, and faulty brakes.
She also added that their radios don’t work in parts of town, so they can’t call for help if they needed backup.
“Would you put your lives on the line in these conditions? I don’t think so,” Sarnacki said.
The town is also down three officers and their request for new hires was denied after discussion of merging Blandford and Chester’s departments together.
“Last Monday the Board of Selectmen for both Blandford and Chester held a joint meeting in regards to the possibility of merging police departments, Sarnacki said in the news release. “Little regard was shown by both boards to the Officers and Chief of the Blandford Police Department. It appeared that the board had an agenda and were not willing to entertain the Chief’s and officer’s opinions or suggestions. Because of the lack of respect shown by the Board of Selectmen, as well as for the numerous reasons discussed above, the entire Blandford Police Department will be resigning at this time. We regret leaving the town without a town police force, but we have no choice given the situation we face.”
Blandford Select Board member Cara Letendre said in a statement sent to 22News, “We have had multiple public meetings with our police force and have offered them the opportunity to engage and provide their opinions for the direction of the force.”
Letendre also said Chief Sarnacki “has done a fine job with our police officers and our police department,” but added that it is unfortunate she led this “officer walk out” as she would have been considered for the acting chief position.
In response to the department’s resignation, Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi has sent six deputy sheriffs and marked cruisers to Blandford.
“I cannot allow one of our communities to have the appearance that the town will go unprotected,” Cocchi said. “My team will stay in place throughout the night and we will reassess with the Town of Blandfords select board on their needs in the morning.”
22News saw two cruisers from their department patrolling the area early Tuesday morning.
22News also spoke with town Selectmen, Bill Levakis Tuesday morning who said ” you take an oath to protect the public, and I’m really disappointed,” regarding the resignation. He told 22News they are currently in communication with Chester’s Police Department.
State Police Spokesperson Dave Procopio issued the following statement regarding the department’s resignation:
“For decades the Massachusetts State Police have maintained a strong presence in the town of Blandford, providing police services on a daily basis and responding to emergency and routine calls for service to supplement the local department’s capabilities. State Police also exclusively provide police services in the town on the overnight shift. We have notified town officials that we maintain our commitment to the town and will assume any additional duties required in the wake of the resignations of local officers. The residents of Blandford may be assured that the State Police will continue to protect their community. All 911 calls from Blandford for police assistance are now being routed to the State Police Barracks in Russell. Residents should call 911 for any emergencies, and for general, non-emergency calls, contact State Police-Russell at (413) 862-3312. The barracks is located at 90 Westfield Rd., Russell.”
We’ll continue to bring you new information about the department’s resignation as it becomes available.
Posted on the People Who Love Blandford Facebook Group:
In June when our former police chief resigned after years of service to the town, the selectboard saw it as an opportunity to work on re-structuring our police department. We pinpointed three possible directions for the department; keep the structure as is and hire another Chief, regionalize with a neighboring town, or rely on state police and hire a permit administrator only. Before choosing a path forward, we decided we needed to collect data and input and be able to make the most informed decision possible.
Roberta Sarnacki had been attending selectboard meetings when she heard that our former chief was resigning. She offered to step in and help manage the department temporarily while we were in limbo. The selectboard appointed her until July 30th. We did not post and accept resumes at that time and clear expectations were not set.
As her time as chief, Sarnacki did a fine job. She set-up some community outreach programs that were much appreciated. As her term came to an end, the selectboard decided that we are very much still in the beginning stages of re-structuring and that it was prudent to post the Acting Chief position as we had not previously done so. We encouraged Sarnacki to apply and explained that by posting the position and developing a job description for an interim chief, we would be setting clear expectations.
I met with her and the town administrator about 2 hours before she led the walk-out to explain why we are posting the position and again urge her to apply. She told me at that time that she understood why we were posting it but did not agree with our position. She did not bring up any of the concerns listed in her press release. At the close of her meeting I stressed that any police officers who had questions and concerns could call or email me and I would be happy to meet one on one to speak with them. In fact, I ran into an officer in the hall and shared this same message. He did not express any concerns.
The week prior, the police department came before the selectboard. They spoke about their support of Chief Sarnacki but did not bring up any concerns. We explained our reasons for posting and again let them know that Sarnacki was welcome to apply.
The news release that the police department sent out was a surprise to the selectboard. The only issue that Sarnacki had approached us with was regarding the air conditioner, broken seats, and brakes in the cruiser. We had instructed her to get quotes and have the repairs done. In fact the car is ready for pick-up today. The other issues are ones that all small towns face and there are resolutions. Those resolutions are not immediate and will take work on the part of the Chief, but they certainly are not reasons to walk out and leave a town without a police force.
Not only did the police department decide to walk out, they did so in a way that has created chaos. They told the media that they had left prior to letting the selectboard know and at no point sought discussion or reconciliation. They essentially announced to the surrounding areas that our small town had no police presence and left us in a vulnerable and dangerous situation.