Last week, the Town of Blandford’s police force resigned en masse, leaving the community without local police, and increasing the presence of state police.
All four members of the Town of Blandford’s police, including the interim Chief Roberta Sarnacki, resigned last week, claiming they were working in unsafe conditions for unfair wages.
Sarnacki said these unsafe conditions included ill-fitting and expired bullet-proof vests, radios that did not work in most parts of the town, and a number of issues with their police vehicles, including air conditioning, brake, and seat problems. The officers also claimed they were paid less than they deserved for putting their lives in danger. “They are asking us to do this with no radio coverage, no real backup if needed, and all for $14 or $15 an hour,” Sarnacki said. “Would you put your lives on the line in these conditions?”
The situation pushed the four officers over the edge, to the point where they felt they had no other choice but to resign.
Based on a review of MassAnalysis, Blandford’s police expenditures are low relative to similar communities. In 2016, the town spent just $41,350 on their police, including salaries and equipment.
MassAnalysis compares municipalities across the Commonwealth based on a series of factors. When looking at towns with similar populations, crime rates, and total budgets, the town that resembles Blandford the most is Petersham. In 2016, Petersham’s police spending was almost five times higher than Blandford’s – close to $196,000. Petersham spends over six percent of its total budget on police, where Blandford spends just one percent.
So why is there such a stark difference in police spending?
The answer is Blandford’s staggering debt.
Not only does Blandford have more than five million dollars in debt, but nearly 30 percent of their four million dollar budget is dedicated to debt service. Petersham, on the other hand, allocates three percent of its budget towards debt service.
Blandford’s debt service has increased from 9.03 percent of the town’s budget in 2012 to 28.47 percent in 2016 (see table below).
The massive debt and high percentage of debt service in the past two years could help explain the rising outcry from residents and officers about the lack of funding. An increase in demand for safe equipment mixed with an ultimately declining budget created a tense and unacceptable working environment these officers could no longer endure.
“You’ve got to move with the future,” Mr. Levakis, town official, told the New York Times regarding the officers’ resigning. “We’re just trying to find better ways to use our money.” The town was only able to pay the officers $14-$15 an hour for their part-time service.
According to Masslive many in the town are unshaken, “the general consensus seemed to be: ‘meh.’” The low crime and previous reliance on state police and neighboring towns does not seem to have much impact on Blandford and its residents. However, the resignation of the entire police force sheds light on the town’s underlying fiscal struggles.