RICHMOND — Richmond voters have overwhelmingly approved a measure to eliminate their local police department.
“There will be police coverage,” said Selectman William Daniels. “It’s not like we’re going to the Wild West.”
The annual Town Meeting, held Saturday at the Veterans Memorial Hall on Route 32, saw 135 residents come out to vote on the town budget proposals, including the measure to end local police coverage in favor of contracting police service with the Cheshire County Sheriff’s Department. Voters went for the measure 114 to 21 after a secret ballot vote.
Daniels led selectmen in answering questions about the change to the department, saying the switch will bring the annual cost for police coverage down from about $140,000 to $77,000 a year. That will save homeowners about $100 a year on $100,000 property valuation, Daniels said.
Selectmen Carol Jameson and Doug Bersaw took a back seat in the discussion. Jameson is stepping down from the board after years of service. Bersaw, a member of the alleged hate group the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and a man who has been quoted as denying the Holocaust, did not speak on the issue.
Some voters expressed concern about the change, saying the town will lose out if it no longer has a local department with officers who know the community.
“Things are going to change dramatically if we get rid of the local police department,” said resident Bonnie Baxter.
Lt. Andrew Wood, the part-time officer in charge of the Richmond department and chief of the Hannock Police Department, had a letter distributed to residents after he claimed his annual report was rejected for inclusion in the town’s report by selectmen. Wood was not at the meeting Saturday, but he has asserted selectmen used false numbers when presenting the police department change to voters earlier this year.
“It has become very evident to me, that the lack of transparency, lack of providing factual information, and lack of honesty has moved into local government,” Wood wrote to residents.
Many members of the Slaves were visible at the meeting and took part in the vote. The FBI investigated the group last year over a complaint they were allegedly holding a young woman against her will, an accusation the group’s leader, Louis Villarrubia, who goes by Brother Andre Marie, has denied.
The Slaves were sanctioned in January by the Roman Catholic Church with Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci issuing a letter stating faithful Catholics cannot attend services at the Slaves’ compound, and that the Slaves must stop calling their organization Catholic, or presenting their teaching as representing actual Catholic teaching.