This bit of news caught my eye because it happened in Blanford, a town about 20 miles from where I grew up in western Massachusetts. Blanford, about 18 miles west of Springfield, is a typical, bucolic, quaint, or any appropriate adjective you wish to use when describing a small New England town.
A police force of four officers, including their interim chief, Roberta Sarnacki, protect and serve some 1,200 souls. Well, at least they were until they weren’t. Whether that’s the cops’ fault or that of the Blanford Board of Selectmen is for you to decide.
The entire Blanford police force, including its chief, resigned on Monday, July 30, for what the cops claim are significant officer safety reasons. The reasons they cited in a letter of resignation include a failure to replace ill-fitting hand-me-down and expired body armor, deploying officers in defective police cruisers, radios and cell phones that don’t work in some parts of town, and accusations the town’s Board of Selectmen refused to fill three vacant police officer positions. The officers also noted they take on these risks for a mere $14 – $15 per hour.
In a letter of resignation to the board, Chief Sarnacki noted the lack of staffing “gives officers few options if they need back-up in a dangerous situation.” The resignation letter also mentioned the recent shooting of two police officers in Falmouth, Mass. and the many officers shot and wounded or killed across the country.
From the local reporting, I also noticed that many of the reasons the officers cite are similar to those I cite as causes of de-policing. And an entire town’s force resigning, even if it’s only four officers, is significant—especially to its citizens. You don’t get more de-policed than that. Sarnacki also noted many of the deficiencies, such as staffing shortages, are occurring because of a possible merger combining Blanford P.D. and neighboring Chester P.D.
In response to the officer’s complaints, the Board of Selectmen issued a written statement: “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.” The chief and officers refute the claim the board took their concerns seriously.
While some administrative delays may occur due to such a potential merger, town leaders should never compromise officer safety for the sake of expediency of any kind. I’m not saying this is the case with Blanford’s politicians, but many city political leaders these days view the police as a necessary evil, with the emphasis on evil. This is common nowadays because the cops are not needed until they are needed—right now!
NBCNews.com put this event in perspective, including a reference to some classic causes of de-policing. “Departments in rural towns and large cities across the country have for years been suffering from diminishing pay, a shortage of officers and recruits, and general anti-police attitudes [emphasis mine].”
In the meantime, Hampden County Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi has reportedly deployed six deputies to patrol and deliver a “public safety presence to a Hampden County town in need.” I’m sure this is comforting to the people of Blanford, especially since the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department is likely better equipped than it appears the town’s police officers may have been. The Massachusetts State Police is also working with the town, “to ensure residents’ safety and security needs are met,” and the troopers are definitely well-equipped.
While there are likely nuances about this story known only to in-the-know locals, and I might hear about something that would change my mind, the officer safety aspects of the story seem to have merit. And while I remain skeptical that any police officer should ever walk off the job in such an abrupt fashion, I also hold responsible those politicians that may have put their police officers in the untenable position of either having to accept unnecessary risks or of having to take such a drastic action.