RICHMOND — As voters move closer to possibly dissolving the town’s police department, Police Lt. Andrew Wood said the financial figures the Board of Selectmen are presenting paint a false picture.
“The members of the Board should not mislead and misrepresent facts to suit their personal agendas,” Wood, the town’s Officer in Charge, wrote in a statement responding to what he said are misleading statements and actions from the board.
Board members could not be reached for comment.
Selectmen are putting forward a warrant article for Town Meeting that would eliminate the police department and have the Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office patrol the town.
According to numbers presented by Selectmen William Daniels and Carol Jameson last month, the yearly cost for a sheriff’s deputy is $71,760 for 30 patrol hours per week or $95,680 for 40 patrol hours per week. By comparison, maintaining one full-time officer, which was approved by Town Meeting in March 2018, costs $177,334 per year for 40 patrol hours, according to selectmen. Keeping a part-time department providing 12 patrol hours each week would cost $112,334 a year, selectmen claim.
Wood, who himself is a part-time employee, said the numbers are not accurate. Under his proposed 2019 budget, the town would pay a little more than $103,000 for 91 personnel hours per week, including patrol hours, time for an administrative assistant, and a prosecutor.
Wood maintains that selectmen have created an unstable situation within the town, driving the town’s only full-time officer out. Officer Cameron Prior left over the summer, taking a job with Wood at the Hancock Police Department, where Wood serves as the full-time chief.
Wood states that the board blocked him from hiring another full-time officer and from hiring enough part-time officers to provide coverage.
“They have indicated that we were having difficulty hiring part-time officers, but was not true,” Wood wrote. “We had received several applications, some from certified officers in other towns.”
Wood claims the board’s actions stem from unhappiness over the vote last year to create the first full-time police officer position. That measure narrowly passed at the last Town Meeting.
“It was obvious that the course of events that members of the Board have put in place, along with comments made, were a direct retaliation for the full-time position being passed in March,” Wood wrote.
Wood claims that board members engaged in illegal meetings concerning the police department, improperly using the non-public exemption for government business in order to hide their actions. Wood said that he told the board members they have been violating the law.
“I told them that they were not being transparent and not following the law,” Wood wrote.
Wood is not opposed to Richmond dissolving the police department, so long as the voters make an informed choice and understand the ramifications of the move.
“I told the Board if the citizens of Richmond chose to utilize other law enforcement services, through the legislative process, that is their choice. The citizens should be given accurate and complete information,” he wrote.